A HOSPITAL accountant stole the identities of more than 50 NHS workers and used their confidential information to fraudulently claim tax refunds.

Whilst working as a senior financial officer in the finance department for East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust throughout 2012, Sharjeel Iqbal set up companies to steal £26,000 in tax repayments from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

He claimed a further £10,400, but these payments were stopped before they were transferred or cleared his bank accounts.

At Bolton Crown Court he was jailed for 21 months, with Judge Timothy Stead telling him: “You were very much trusted and you abused that trust thoroughly.”

Benjamin Lawrence, prosecuting, told the court how Iqbal, a qualified chartered accountant, was taken on by the Trust on January 4 2012 in order to deal with budget control.

Before that the 29-year-old had been employed by the NHS as a counter fraud support officer.

“That will have given him some of the knowledge required to commit this fraud,” said Mr Lawrence.

The day before he started his new job, Iqbal, of Lakelands Drive, Bolton, set up a company called TNC Associates and opened an associated Natwest bank account.

Then in October, 2012, he changed the company’s name to ATT Associates.

“There is no obvious reason why this would need to take place, save that it obviously reduces the risk of ringing alarm bells of fraudulent transactions at HMRC,” said Mr Lawrence.

The court heard that, as part of his finance officer roll, Iqbal had access to a database containing vast numbers of employees’ personal details, including National Insurance numbers, payslips, payroll transactions and employment histories.

But he resigned from the Trust after just a year on December 31, 2012, after management discussed his performance which was considered unsatisfactory.

Whilst employed by the trust Iqbal began the fraud.

“It was very simple in its execution,” said Mr Lawrence.

“Using the confidential information he had retained, he filled in a number of forms and a pro-forma letter. Signatures on the forms were falsified. These documents were then sent to HMRC.

“Taken together, they purported to authorise the defendant’s company to act for the individual and they requested a repayment of overpaid tax to that company’s account.”

In order to try and deflect attention from himself, Iqbal even stole the names of NHS employees, including the trust’s head of human resources David Smithson,claiming they were tax assistants for one of Iqbal’s companies.

And after he resigned from the trust Iqbal set up a third company, RT Roberts and Co and using the data he had kept, continued committing his fraud until September, 2014.

In total Iqbal made 61 fraudulent claims for tax repayment, 59 of which related to NHS employees.

Almost all of the money Iqbal stole was then withdrawn from cash machines.

After his arrest on November 12, 2014, investigators seized a laptop from his business premises in St Helens Road, Bolton, and found electronic versions of the forms needed for the fraud in the names of 23 victims.

At his home, more than £4,000 in bundles of cash was found hidden in his bathroom.

And when questioned, Iqbal wrongly blamed another innocent man.

On the day of his trial, Iqbal pleaded guilty to fraud.

Nicholas Worsley, defending, said that married father-of-one Iqbal was the first member of his extended family to go to university, but had committed the offences after running up £43,000 debts on credit cards and loans in addition to a £12,500 student loan.

“He is someone who has lost any chance of the career he hoped for and brought shame on his family,” said Mr Worsley, who added that Iqbal now works in a menial clerical job and has borrowed from family and friends to repay the money he took.

Speaking after the case, Sandra Smith, assistant director of HMRC’s fraud investigation service, said: “This was a well-organised, professional attempt to manipulate the UK tax system for personal gain. As an accountant, Iqbal was in a position of trust and well aware that he was breaking the law.

“It was an appalling plan to steal from doctors, nurses and UK taxpayers that HMRC intercepted.

“He now has a criminal record and his professional reputation is ruined.”

Michelle Brown, acting director of finance at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “The Trust supported HMRC to bring this case.

“We have a duty to protect our employees and take a zero-tolerance approach to identity theft.”