A RAIL boss on £91,000 a year who authorised illicit expenditure on alcohol, hotels and travel has received a suspended jail term.

Mark Heffernan, 47, of Clifford Street, Chudleigh, Devon, admitted four charges of fraud totalling £10,530.

Bristol Crown Court heard his personal assistant, 46-year-old Jennifer Perry, of Pill, admitted a single fraud.

That totalled £3,281 and was by facilitating the payment of fraudulent alcohol expenses between June 2009 and December 2016.

Judge Martin Picton handed Heffernan a 12 month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, and told him to fully compensate GWR plus £1,800 court costs.

He told Heffernan: "Your offending has cost you your good character and it also cost you a senior position within GWR for whom you had worked, it would seem, very effectively for many years.

"The vast majority of it was aimed at supporting and rewarding the team who you managed in a way that you clearly thought would be effective as a tool to good performance.

"You chose, however, to break the rules in order to cover costs that were not legitimately recoverable via the expenses system and that has cost you very dear."

The judge fined Perry £500 with £500 costs. He told her: "You did not act out of greed or in order to benefit yourself. You are a person of previous good character and have had to spend many months with much more serious charges than the one to which you eventually pleaded guilty hanging over your head."

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Mark Heffernan outside Bristol Crown Court

Earlier Benjamin Aina, prosecuting, said: "This was over seven years and the loser was Great Western Railway.

"The company regularly prosecutes fare evaders.

"It expects the highest level of integrity from senior managers and those in positions of trust.

"Fraud leads to fare increases for members of the public."

Mr Aina said Heffernan worked for GWR for 28 years and worked his way up to head of drivers and then deputy operations director, on an annual salary of £91,000 plus bonuses.

He told the court: "The prosecution's case is he abused his position to extract further benefits from the company for himself and his team."

Mr Aina said Heffernan rubber-stamped staff claims for alcohol, when alcohol could bot be claimed. He also billed GWR for hotel stays he made with his wife at Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol, the court heard.

Perry acted on instructions and there was evidence of her trying to hide alcohol purchases in claims for "food and beverages."

Heffernan, who resigned from the company, told investigators he recognised he had strayed into the wrong side of policy.

Perry, who was dismissed, gave a prepared statement in which she said she acted on orders.

Stephen Mejzner, for Heffernan, said his client had literally worked "24/7" for GWR and produced good results.

Such was the regard held for him he was head-hunted by National Express and is now employed in a senior position with them, the court heard.

Paul Grumbar, for Perry, said: "She made nothing out of it.

"She doesn't even drink wine."