A FORMER head of finance at a York-based mutual society has been jailed for six years for stealing more than £1.2 million from its 900,000 members.

James William Gibbon, 62, who used the money to fund a lavish lifestyle, started work at Benenden Healthcare just six months after he was released from a four-year sentence for a similar fraud at a road construction company that had netted him £300,000, York Crown Court heard.

Benenden said last night it shared its members' anger that such a criminal act and significant breach of trust and responsibility had been perpetrated on the mutual, not-for-profit organisation.

The court heard that Gibbon had used his Benenden crimes to help pay for private schools for his children, a BMW for his wife, bespoke holidays, property investment and £667,000 spending on credit cards.

Andrew Haslam, prosecuting, said since his arrest, he had been declared bankrupt, so none of the money could be reclaimed. His barrister Glenn Parsons said his client faced “an extremely uncertain future”.

Recorder Simon Myerson QC said: “It is difficult to imagine a graver breach of trust. It is not a victimless crime.”

The money belonged to the society’s 900,000 members, who had banded together to afford what they could not afford individually.

“You took their money for yourself because you wanted to and you could,” the judge told Gibbon. “It is contemptible behaviour.”

Gibbon, of St George’s Place, Tadcaster Road, York, pleaded guilty to stealing £1,207,417 from Benenden Healthcare Society between January 1, 2003, and April 4, 2012.

Mr Haslam said Gibbon earned between £48,000 and £55,000 a year as head of finance or acting finance director from March 1998 to April 2012. He had control over the society’s corporate account and used it to make payments and cheques for his own purposes. He falsified the society’s accounts to hide his crimes, and had control over internal audits. But in 2012 he was sacked for making unauthorised payments to two women members of staff.

An internal audit after his departure revealed his crimes dated back to 2006, which was as far as the society’s records went.

Mr Parsons said Gibbon had intended to go straight on his release from prison in September 1997 and had worked “legitimately and properly” for years, but succumbed to his weakness and took advantage of a culture that was at times lax.

A Benenden spokesman said Mr Gibbon had failed to follow the values which the organisation worked to. It said that while the theft had not significantly impacted the society’s financial stability, it had an effect on its members because its assets had been depleted.

“We have undertaken a number of steps to reduce the risk of any future fraud on the society,” it said. “These measures include reviewing and enhancing our internal control environment.”

He declined to say whether Benenden had been aware of Gibbon’s previous conviction when it employed him.