Published: 00:01, 05 February 2015
An accounts assistant led a luxurious lifestyle after stealing more than £100,000 from the franchise she worked for - causing it to close.
But Lauren Cherry, who bought designer clothes and jewellery and enjoyed expensive holidays, has been ordered to pay back just £1.
Her employer, F. P. Mailing (Premier) in Dartford, could not take the loss from the theft and closed, putting four people out of a job.
The 32-year-old former pub manager was said to have been suffering from depression and low self-esteem and claimed she went on spending sprees to give her a “lift”.
Cherry, of Raven Court, Admirals Way, Gravesend, was jailed for just over two years after a judge branded it “concerted, calculated and consistent conduct”.
“There were designer clothes and jewellery. There were a number of holidays. The money was basically stolen and spent on an extravagant lifestyle” - Prosecutor John Turner
Maidstone Crown Court heard Cherry joined the company as an accounts assistant in April 2012 and started stealing from the company within two months.
Prosecutor John Turner said Cherry, who earned about £1,400 gross a month, had access to the online banking system and made transfers from the account to six accounts she had.
She disguised it by saying they were transfers within the company, which supplied franking machines.
By August there were concerns about her bookkeeping and absence due to illness. When challenged about the transfers she claimed they were made by mistake. She was then sacked.
“It is fair to describe her lifestyle as extravagant,” said Mr Turner.
After Mr Turner said Cherry, who admitted stealing £104,320, had no assets, Judge David Griffith-Jones QC made a nominal confiscation order for £1, to be paid within 28 days.
Jailing Cherry for two years and one month, the judge said: “This is a sorry tale I have heard. It is very troubling to see someone like you standing in the dock awaiting sentence for what is in any view a serious offence.
“You used your position of trust in a concerted and calculated way to divert significant sums of money into your own accounts, of which you had many.
“You were motivated by greed. You wished to be seen as successful and generous to others. It is fair to say you took a long time to accept your responsibility in the face of compelling evidence.”
Simon Wickens, for Cherry, said she had suffered from depression and low self-worth over the years.
She left school with 11 GCSEs and obtained a BTech diploma in media. She was approached by Sony to work for the company.
Mr Wickens said Cherry started to suffer from depression after contracting glandular fever. She found it difficult to return to work and eventually left the job.
She then worked her way up to management level in the pub trade. She studied for a degree in accounts before being employed by F. P. Mailing (Premier).
Mr Wickens said Cherry’s “world fell apart” when her long- term partner cheated on her and left her.
“She was left with debts. She was in a property she couldn’t afford. Most significantly, she was emotionally destroyed. This offence appears to be borne out of that" - Simon Wickens, defence
“She was left with debts,” he said. “She was in a property she couldn’t afford. Most significantly, she was emotionally destroyed. This offence appears to be borne out of that.
“Things spiralled. The missing money went unnoticed. She bought things to make her feel better.
“Her family thought she was doing amazingly well.
“She was treating others to build up an image of a happy life.”
Mr Wickens, who urged the judge to “exceptionally” suspend the sentence, added Cherry had managed to find another job.
Cherry’s deceit cost jobs when it led to the franchise being wound up.
F. P. Mailing (Premier), which was based in Great Queen Street, was unable to continue trading and went into liquidation, resulting in 15 people losing their jobs.
Eleven were taken on by a new franchise of the company, called F. P. Mailing (City), which manufactures mailroom equipment and operates from the same building in Great Queen Street.
But four lost their jobs.
A director, who did not wish to be named, said Cherry’s criminality left a bitter taste.
He said: “We couldn’t believe she had taken so much and while doing so was treating everyone here like we were her friends.
“It wasn’t just a working relationship. It was a small company and everyone was very close.
“She would take people out, buying everyone Christmas presents.
“But it was our money she was doing it with. When this all came to light we tried to keep it away from staff so it didn’t affect them. But I think people were more gutted they were taken in by it all.”
Two of Cherry’s former work colleagues were in court for the sentencing.
Not only did they think the jail term was too lenient but they were also disappointed the judge did not hear of the company’s fate despite giving statements to police.
Cherry’s thieving between June 2012 and January 2013 only came to light after she left a bank statement on her desk and a staff member noticed two company payments into her account.
An investigation was launched and Cherry was confronted the next day.
“She just denied everything,” said the director, “and we never knew how much she had taken until the police investigated.
“It meant we had to go into liquidation. We fought to keep it open but couldn’t. Four definitely lost their jobs because of her.”
The director said: “I thought I was a good judge of character and I thought I could trust her but as far as I’m concerned she is just a professional thief.”
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