by Elizabeth Tilley and AAP

A BUNDABERG cane farming couple achieved a near $1 million victory when a bank was ordered to pay compensation for the savings they lost to a swindling accountant.

Eric and Betty Voss were awarded $577,000 plus 10% interest over seven years by the Queensland Court of Appeal in a judgement delivered yesterday. The judgement was made against Suncorp Metway for negligence in allowing former Bundaberg accountant Nicholas Ripper to deposit $600,000 in a newly opened account in the name of a fake trust and withdraw it all on the same day. The Court of Appeal, led by Justice Geoff Davies, found an independent inquiry by the bank would have revealed Mr Ripper was not the intended payee of the cheque.

Mr and Mrs Voss had gone to Mr Ripper, who was their accountant, in May 1996 and asked for advice about investing $600,000 from the sale of their cane farm. Mr Ripper advised them to invest the money in an overseas trust which did not exist. He took their Suncorp bank cheque made out to the Southern Pacific Equities Unit Trust and opened an account in that name at Suncorp the same day.

On the same day he deposited the cheque, he withdrew all the money. Mr Ripper has since been jailed on fraud charges.

The couple’s solicitor, James Conomos of James Conomos Lawyers, told the News-Mail yesterday it was uncommon for a court to deliver a judgement in the circumstances, as the parties had reached an out of court settlement beforehand.

Mr Conomos said the judgement was a good result for consumers dealing with banks in the future. He said he could not make further comment because he had entered into a confidential compromise with Suncorp Metway before the judgement was delivered.

Mr and Mrs Voss had originally lost a Supreme Court civil trial in which they had sued the bank and others.

Last week the bank’s barrister, Walter Sofronoff, QC, attempted to stop the court of appeal from handing down its judgement, saying the bank had already reached an out of court settlement with Mr and Mrs Voss.