FINANCE: An NHS worker who played an integral role in a fraud that saw more than half a million pounds drained from a world leading cancer hospital has been jailed for four years.

Stacey Tipler exploited her job in the accounts department at the Royal Marsden Foundation Trust to alter payment details in a scam that resulted in just over £642,000 meant for cancer drugs being diverted from the London hospital and spent in part on shopping sprees and mortgage repayments.

For several months after December 2011, the 32-year-old substituted account numbers of pharmaceutical firms who were due payment with the details of men recruited by her partner and the ringleader of the plot, Scott Chaplin. He was jailed for five-and-a-half years.

Passing sentence at Southwark Crown Court, Judge Anthony Leonard said Mr Chaplin was the “main instigator” but Ms Tipler was “invaluable” to the scam, which the judge said could had been “catastrophic” for the hospital’s patients.

He told her: “It could only have been you who could have come up with the sophisticated and ingenious methods to ensure that your fraud went undetected.

“I am satisfied that it was not you who had the idea to defraud the hospital. It is my judgment that on your own, this fraud would not have been committed.

“That said, once the idea was there… the position of trust you held made you invaluable in achieving the fraud. The skill which you showed in trying to ensure the fraud would go undiscovered was very great and very dishonest. It was a very clever but dishonest fraud.”

The money was funnelled to the group of associates and mostly withdrawn as cash as part of a money laundering operation before the lion’s share was passed back to Mr Chaplin.

The couple maintained a “cash reserve” to meet their bills and mortgage repayments.

They are also understood to have spent several thousand pounds on a deposit for a venue in Surrey for their proposed wedding, although the nuptials did not take place.

At one point a drugs firm threatened to stop supplying the hospital with medication after failing to receive payment because of the scam, the court heard.

Some of the money was recovered but the hospital remains £310,000 out of pocket.

Ms Tipler, a mother of two from Carshalton in Surrey who worked at the trust for 10 years, was found guilty after a trial of conspiracy to defraud.

Mr Chaplin, 33 and also from Carshalton, was convicted of the same charge and a count of conspiracy to money launder.

The judge said he accepted that the couple had only expected to defraud the hospital of about half the total amount taken.

However, due to an oversight by Ms Tipler, the details of two of their co-defendants stayed in place of suppliers when payments were transferred to a central NHS system in April 2012.

The judge said: “The impact of the failure to reverse the scheme could have been catastrophic for the hospital patients because one of the drugs suppliers threatened to stop supplying vital medicines.”

NHS investigators uncovered the fraud in May 2012.

Kelly Matthews, a lawyer with the Crown Prosecution Services’ specialist fraud division, said: “This was a sophisticated, large scale fraud orchestrated to divert vital public funds for essential equipment and medicines at the Royal Marsden.”

Sue Frith, head of the national investigation service at NHS Protect, said: “This gang stole a large amount of money from the NHS which was intended for patient care.

“All suspicions of fraud reported to NHS Protect will be followed up and investigated wherever appropriate. We press for prosecution of offenders and seek the strongest possible sanctions.”