James Cleary – University Fraudster

On 11th January, James Cleary was sent to prison for defrauding the University of Manchester of just over £30,000. We don’t have the sentencing remarks (a common cause of complaint for us) so are relying on the news reports.

Mr Cleary is aged 40. He worked as a manager at the University for a number of years. During this time, he was having difficulties with drugs and alcohol and, to pay for that, created a false identity ‘Michelle Roberts’ and caused £31,984 to be paid (in 25 separate transactions) to that account. He then took the money for himself.

The offences came to light after Mr Cleary had stopped working for the University, seemingly during an audit. It was discovered that Mr Cleary’s bank account had the same details Ms Roberts’. When Mr Cleary was interviewed, he fully accepted what he had done and indicated his remorse. Although it is not stated, it would seem that he pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity.

So, why 20 months? Well, there are two guidelines of relevance from the Sentencing Guidelines Council: the Fraud and the Theft Guidelines. It is helpful to look at both.

Fraud – The relevant part would be the Banking Fraud guidelines (p24). It falls into the highest category and within the bracket of £20,000-100,000. The starting point based on £60,000 is 2 years imprisonment, with a range of 18 months to 3 years. For this offence, the starting point would seem to be around the period of 20 months. This is the sentence after a trial however, and Mr Cleary would have been entitled to the full one third discount for his plea of guilty.

Theft – For theft in breach of trust it falls in the first category (p11). As Mr Cleary was a manager, he would have been in a position of a high degree of trust. The sentencing ‘bracket’ is 2-6 years, with a starting point of 3 years (before any credit for a plea of guilty).



It would seem that the sentencing Judge followed the theft guidelines rather than the fraud ones. This is correct because whilst the offence may have been charged as a fraud, it is essentially a theft from Mr Cleary’s employers.

Was the sentence right? We don’t have any of the mitigation, but assuming that ‘full credit’ was given, the starting point after a trial would be 30 months, or two and a half years.This is exactly what one would expect on the Theft guidelines. When you compare it with other cases (see, for example, the case of Darren Smith we reported on last year) whilst there are plenty of Judges that would have given a lower sentence for the fraud than this, it would appear to be well within the range of what would be expected and an appeal is unlikely.


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About Dan Bunting

I'm a lawyer who works for myself. Legal geek, maths freak, general dullard and jack of all trades. Here’s a few views on law and occasional musings on life. Usual caveats about not relying on anything I say etc applies.

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