THE story of a Barnsley woman who spent almost two years in a New Zealand jail having defrauded the country’s transport ministry has been turned into a documentary.
 
Joanne Harrison, 53, was deported to the UK earlier this year having served half of her 43-month prison sentence given to her for stealing 725,000 dollars – the equivalent of £418,000.
 
At  the time Manukau District Court was told Harrison, whose maiden name was Sidebottom and is believed to have attended Darton High School, was employed as a general manager at the ministry in Wellington and was authorised to spend public funds.
 
However, over the course of two years Harrison – also known as Joanne Sharp – made false invoices to three fake entities to misappropriate the money into her own accounts from 2008.
 
She then used the money to pay off credit card debts and a mortgage on a house.
 
Her story has been turned into a 43-minute documentary in New Zealand – titled The Fraudster: Life and Crimes of a Conwoman – made by production firm Stuff Circuit.
 
Investigators uncovered more facts about Harrison, who previously pleaded guilty to five charges of forgery, using a forged document, altering a document, using an altered document and obtaining by deception in 2007 under the name of Joanne Sharp.
 
A spokesman from Stuff Circuit told the Chronicle: “The charges related to her time as a senior manager at Tower Insurance – she was convicted in July 2007 of all the charges, and sentenced to 300 hours’ community service.
 
“At a subsequent hearing she was granted permanent name suppression, because of the order in place for Joanne Sharp, her previous fraud offending has not been revealed until now.”
Stuff Circuit pursued legal action in order to lift the order – which was a success – and the documentary tells the story of how the Barnsley woman was able to ‘trick’ her way into another high-paid role under the surname of Harrison, which it’s understood she still uses.
 
“The judge accepted our submissions that ‘the subsequent offending establishes a propensity or pattern of dishonest behaviour that the public is entitled to be informed and warned about’ and that there is ‘a heightened public interest in knowing how repeat offenders are dealt with, and in particular how it is possible that a convicted fraudster came to be employed by a government department, in a position which allowed her to reoffend’. Harrison charmed her way through corporate and government jobs, leaving a trail of carnage. 
 
“She duped senior executives who have been left shaking their heads at the fact they’d been taken in.”
 
The country’s parole board approved Harrison’s deportation earlier this year and a report revealed she had been undertaking neuropsychological work to address faulty thinking ahead of her release.
 
It added: “Ms Harrison does not underestimate the challenges that she will face when she returns to the community. However, she sees herself as now being in the strongest position possible to return to the UK and to begin a new life for herself.
 
“We talked to Ms Harrison about the risks that she will face back in the UK and her ongoing risk to the community. 
 
“She said that initially she will be supported financially and she plans to investigate re-training in the nutritionist or mindfulness field.
 
“She said she has never offended in a fraudulent way in the UK and has no convictions there. She said she began thinking of fraudulent offending while residing there but did not offend.
 
“Despite having used several different names to commit her fraudulent activities, Ms Harrison told the board she plans to use the name Joanne Harrison when she returns. 
 
“She said that there is an awareness of her offending in the area to which she will be returning because the New Zealand media reports reached that location as well.”