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Elaine Negus stole £242,000 from Emmerich (Berlon) Ltd in Ashford

An office manager who brought the company she worked for to its knees by stealing more than £242,000 has been jailed for three-and-a-quarter years.

Elaine Negus left Emmerich (Berlon) Ltd in Ashford in a dire financial situation when she siphoned off the money over a four-year period.

The “old established family company” in Wotton Road, which makes Emir workbenches, was forced to ask for voluntary redundancies and closed for one a day week to reduce costs.

Emmerich (Berlon) has made hand tools and work benches in Ashford for nearly 50 years

“At the time the company was having financial difficulties,” prosecutor Ian Foinette told Maidstone Crown Court.

“What is striking is the financial difficulties more or less reflected the money taken by this defendant, because the company was unaware where the money was going.

Let alone any dishonesty, they had to rationalise the business and that involved short-term working for staff and a great deal of soul-searching by management as to how they should treat staff, most of whom were long-term employees.”

Mr Foinette said the company had also helped 51-year-old Negus out with loans when she was short of money and financed her work qualifications.

“It was perhaps a slightly paternalistic company which looked after its employees very well,” he said.

Negus, of Baileys Field, Ashford, joined the company as an accounts assistant in 2005 and was promoted later to office manager.

No problems came to light while she was there but after she left in 2014 a staff member indicated he did not think his pension contributions had been properly transferred.

Accounts were examined and anomalies were discovered. Various transactions had been made without any authority.

Mr Foinette said there was a total of 79 transactions of money being transferred from the company account into her account.

Genuine suppliers had been noted on company records as having raised invoices for money due to them, but Negus had included her bank details for payment.

The premises of Emmerich (Berlon) Ltd in Kingsnorth Industrial Estate, Ashford

After her arrest she gave no explanation about where the money had gone.

But Paul Lamb, defending, said it was used for her family and there was no extravagance.

The stealing started when she obtained a larger property for her and her two children.

Negus, who admitted theft, needed a £4,000 deposit and money to pay for day to day living. She took money whenever there was a shortfall in funds and bought food, better quality clothing and went on holiday.

“She lived far beyond her financial capabilities and funded it by her criminal activities,” said Mr Lamb. “She makes no excuses for it. She deeply regrets her actions.

“She didn’t appreciate the difficulty she placed her employers in and the impact it would have had.”

She lost her home in 2015 and went to live with one of her sons. She had since been working in a debt recovery role for Brake Brothers food distributors, but had not told them about the offence.

Emmerich (Berlon) makes long-lasting wooden benches

Neither had she told her parents, who were away on holiday.

“There is a degree of regret and remorse,” added Mr Lamb. “She is ashamed of her actions.”

Judge Adele Williams told Negus, who has previous convictions for theft from an employer and forgery: “You abused your position of trust as an employee of this family business. Eventually, your dishonesty was discovered.”

A statement from research and development officer Duncan Inglis made it plain there was a detrimental effect on the company.

“This is serious dishonesty against your employer,” added the judge.

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