Cashier used £1.7m stolen from solicitors to fund life of luxury

A cashier at a firm of solicitors who stole £1.7m over seven years to finance a luxurious lifestyle for herself and her husband was jailed for five years yesterday.

Louise Martini, 36, who had worked for the firm since she was 16, bought jewellery from Chanel, shares in a racehorse and the lease of a pub in the village which supposedly inspired Ambridge in The Archers.

The cashier, who was earning 24,000 at the time of her arrest, also spent thousands on luxury holidays, designer clothes and stays in country house hotels.

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Martini had been recruited straight from school by Solihull law firm Williamson and Soden, which completely trusted her, Gloucester Crown Court heard.

She was responsible for managing petty cash, client bank accounts and expenses and was given increasing responsibility throughout the near 20 years she worked at the firm.

But behind the scenes, Martini was forging cheques, stealing money and lying to her employers to cover her tracks.

Prosecutor Peter Grieves-Smith said: "It was a fraud that lasted just under seven years. The money was used to fund a life of luxury, with money spent on a race horse, cars and luxury shopping trips."

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Between April 2002 and her dismissal in February last year Martini spent 11,000 on Chanel jewellery at Selfridges, more than 10,000 on Cartier jewellery, 9,500 at the designer online store Net-a-Porter, 3,000 at Harvey Nichols, and 500 in exclusive shoe shop Jimmy Choo.

She bought five cars, spending 56,000 on a Range Rover and 42,000 on an Audi Quattro.

As well as a 3,300 trip to Las Vegas, there were expensive holidays to Venice, Lake Como in Italy and ski trips costing thousands of pounds, the court was told.

Martini bought the Crown Inn in Peopleton, Worcestershire, and later purchased the leasehold of The Bull's Head pub in Inkberrow, Worcestershire.

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Martini, of Solihull in the, West Midlands, admitted at an earlier hearing charges of theft and money laundering. Charges of forgery were ordered to lie on file.

A future hearing may strip her of the assets.