A bank clerk stole £17,000 by posing as two elderly customers and using their money to fund his gambling habit.

Jack Barker filled in forms which made it look as if the vulnerable account holders had come into the Bideford branch of TSB and taken out up to £400 cash a time.

He had created the transactions, pocketed the cash, and destroyed the forms which the customers were supposed to have signed to authorise the payment.

He was caught because one of the customers went to the branch to withdraw money on the same day as Barker carried out one of his fraudulent transactions.

A colleague raised concerns and checks on CCTV showed there were no customers at Barker’s counter at the times when the cash withdrawals were made.

An investigation showed he had stolen a total of £17,613 over just over a year and he admitted using the money to pay off gambling debts. He was sacked and the bank reimbursed the customers.

Barker, aged 39, of Victoria Close, Barnstaple, admitted fraud and was jailed for 11 months, suspended for 18 months, ordered to do 200 hours unpaid community work, and ten days of rehabilitation activities at Exeter Crown Court.

Recorder Marcus Pilgerstorfer, QC, set a timetable under the Proceeds of Crime Act which will lead to him being ordered to pay compensation.

He told him: “You used to work behind the counter and deal with customers. That was a trusted and responsible position which required discretion and scrupulous probity and for you to act in the best interests of the bank and the customers.

“You withdrew cash from the accounts of two customers without permission. You marked the transactions as being authorised by the customers and then threw away the forms.

“I want to emphasise to you how close to prison you have come because of the seriousness of the offence and the trusted position which you occupied.”

Michael Brown, prosecuting, said the swindle was carried out on a weekly basis from June 2018 until Barker was caught on July 3, 2019.

The customers had no idea that Barker was accessing their accounts and writing himself counter cheques for between £200 and £400 a time.

Both were elderly but there was no evidence that they had been targeted because of their vulnerability.

Tom Bradnock, defending, said Barker became addicted to gambling at a time when he has suffered a series of bereavements and felt under pressure at work.

He saw it as a release but after an early win he lost a lot of money and borrowed cash to gamble more.

He stole the cash from the bank in the hope of getting a big win which would enable him to repay it and his other debts.

He had stopped gambling since his arrest and shown his remorse by making full admissions to the bank and the police.