Behind bars

By MEGAN KINNINMENT

FORMER South Tweed banker Graham Patrick Higgins had tears streaming down his face yesterday after he was sentenced to three years jail for having defrauded an elderly woman of nearly $80,000.

However they were not tears of remorse, as Higgins continued to deny any wrong-doing in Lismore District Court yesterday.

This was not lost on Judge Black QC as he considered Higgins' fate.

"The offender has not accepted the verdict of the jury ... and it means I cannot take into account that he's shown any remorse," Judge Black told the court.

A jury found Higgins guilty of fraud after evidence showed Higgins had cashed in a bank cheque for $78,303 given to him by his elderly client Doreen Loder in 2001, when Higgins was manager of the Tweed City branch of the Commonwealth Bank.

Yesterday Higgins' defence counsel Peter O'Connor outlined the financial hardship Higgins and his family now faced and tendered medical statements showing that Higgins' depression and post-traumatic stress disorder would be worsened in jail.

Fourteen separate character references were also tendered.

While Judge Black QC noted this was Higgins' first offence, that he was unlikely to re-offend and had good prospects for rehabilitation, these factors had to be "assessed in the light of his non-acceptance of the jury's verdict."

"This type of offence is one the community is particularly concerned about ... and rightly so," the judge said.

While Higgins may not have been remorseful, he showed a lot of emotion in court.

"My reputation has been shattered. I have been humiliated," he said crying.

Judge Black accepted the crown prosecution's claim that an aggravating factor in the offence was the vulnerability of the elderly victim.

The Crown prosecution asked the judge to apply a custodial sentence as a deterrent to other potential fraudsters.

"Higgins' actions have served to undermine the public's faith and trust in a person occupying such a position," she said.

Higgins was accused by the Crown of "abusing the trust of Mrs Loder, of the bank, of the community."

"I did not," Higgins replied.

"There was no (financial) need for you to commit this offence. It was pure greed on your part," the Crown suggested.

"No," Higgins said, smiling and shaking his head.



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