Stolen £230,000 squandered on online gambling

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A WOMAN has been jailed for stealing more than £230,000 while working in the accounts department of a marketing and public relations firm in Yorkshire.

Kay Fearnley abused her position at Brahm Ltd in Headingley, Leeds to get money paid into her own bank account by using false invoices.

Leeds Crown Court heard yesterday she suffered from depression and spent much of the money she stole over six years to fund her online gambling addiction.

Fearnley, 56, of Larkhill Road, Gledhow, Leeds, admitted eight charges of stealing from her then employers between September 2004 and January last year.

Jailing her for three years nine months, Judge Geoffrey Marson QC told her: “It may not have been the most sophisticated method of stealing but it was one that went on over a period of six years.”

And he told her he was satisfied it would have continued had it not been for the fact she and others happened to be made redundant.

“Over that period you stole from your employers no less than £236,000. Most of it has gone on gambling, some of it on holidays abroad, whatever happened to it, it was a gross breach of trust.”

The judge said it might have been that some of the usual checks were not in place “but you exploited that to the full extent.”

She had never been in trouble before and custody for the first time at her age would be difficult to bear but there had to be a jail term. “I accept it is a tragedy for you and your family.”

Louise Pryke, prosecuting, said Fearnley began working for Brahm in 2003 and by the following year was an accounts clerk.

The firm arranged advertising on behalf of clients and when the invoices came in from the media concerned they were sent to the accounts manager for authorisation to be paid and the client would then be billed.

Miss Pryke told the court by creating false invoices payments were made via the BACS transfer system into her own bank account. She would then amend the list afterwards by deleting her own details so that no suspicions were aroused.

“It was a planned and thorough and systematic fraud,” she said. “She identified a weakness in the accounts department and exploited it.”

The court heard her dishonesty only stopped when she was among people made redundant at the firm following the loss of a large contract and her last dishonest transaction, for more than £2,000, was made on the day she left.

The company only had records going back to 2008 but Fearnley’s bank statements were examined and revealed the money going in further back.

Miss Pryke said the money appeared to have spent on credit cards, shopping, online gambling and holidays. Only £4,400 was found in her bank accounts which had been restrained.

Graham Parkin, for Fearnley, said she had spent her recent 56th birthday knowing she was facing jail. She accepted she had breached the trust placed in her over a considerable period but felt a lax system had been in operation, although that was no excuse.

She suffered from depression and other medical problems some stemming from an abrupt withdrawal of medication, and became addicted to gambling as a release for problems.

“She always believed she would win enough to pay the money back but of course that would not have been possible since the system itself would not have allowed that.

“It is also clear that this is not a case of a luxurious lifestyle. Her family live in a former council property, they drive a second-hand car and had limited funds in the bank which were frozen. Most of the money has gone towards her gambling addiction.”

He told the court Fearnley was shocked and remorseful when she discovered the total of what she had taken. “She has had difficulty coming to terms with the scope of her offending.”

Mr Parkin said she had also found it hard to explain what she had done to her husband and family, who were standing by her.