Bristol woman pilfered almost £10K from friend's company
A WOMAN who pilfered almost £10,000 from a company run by her friends has been told to pay it back – or go to jail.
Gemma Crawford used her trusted position as an administrator for Associated Access Equipment Ltd to put two payments totalling £9,396.22 directly into her account.
The 29-year-old of Great Leaze, Cadbury Heath, who has no previous convictions, then used the stolen cash to buy clothes, pay bills and pay off her credit card.
Once rumbled she sent a fake email to the St Philip's based company pretending to be a charity worker in Uganda saying the money had been received, would be returned, and asked for the police not to be involved.
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But last month Crawford pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud on January 26 and June 18 last year and was at Bristol Crown Court on Thursday to be sentenced.
Her sentence was deferred six months during which time she was told she must make significant efforts to repay the money or face a stint behind bars.
Judge Neil Ford QC told her: "This is your opportunity to make good. If you fail to make efforts to repay the money you will receive no mercy from me."
Harry Cockram, a director of Associated Access Equipment Ltd, told the Post after the hearing: "Gemma was somebody I had known for some 15 years and someone who I trusted both as a colleague and a personal friend.
"I have helped her out in the past – once driving her to the Isle of Wight to see her dying father – and she repaid me by stealing more than £9,000 from my company.
"I would even lend her money so that she could come out with us on work nights out.
"When we first heard what had happened I didn't believe it but by pleading guilty she has shown what sort of person she really is."
During the hearing Richard Posner, prosecuting, said Crawford, who was living on the "bread-line", took money from the scaffolding company in payments of £6,431.58 and £2,964.64 and falsified records in an attempt to cover her tracks.
"Despite the lack of sophistication in the crimes because she paid the money directly into her own account this was a grave breach of trust," Mr Posner said.
The court heard that following an internal investigation she was dismissed from the company and later arrested.
"She admitted to police receiving the money and spending it when it appeared in her account," Mr Posner said.
"As soon as the money arrived in January 2011 it was spent on clothes and living costs.
"It ran down to nearly zero and that was when the transaction of the larger amount was put into that account.
"This was used to pay living expenses and pay off her credit card."
After her arrest she was found to have just over £2,000 left in the account which was returned to the company.
Mr Posner handed letters from both company directors – Mr Cockram and James Cottrell – to the judge.
He said: "They are, in effect, victim impact statements. Mr Cockram especially feels let down by someone with whom he worked and considered a friend."
Mr Posner requested a timetable for a hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act was put in place.
Darren Burleigh, mitigating, said Crawford was a single mother with an eight-year-old son who was of a fragile mental state at the time of her offending. He said her grandparents, for whom she cared, had both been seriously ill and that she also had concerns about her own wellbeing meaning she had acted totally out of character.
Mr Burleigh said the breakdown of her relationship had also had an impact on her decision making.
"By paying the money into her own account she was always going to be detected," Mr Burleigh said.
"That shows the clear lack of clarity of thought she must have been subject to throughout this period."
He added that Crawford had paid back the money in her account as well as money she had been given when she had been dismissed showing she accepted liability for her actions.
Judge Neil Ford QC told Crawford: "I am wholly unimpressed by what was an extremely mean piece of criminal conduct for your own means against a company that is vulnerable because of the economic climate.
"You worked for that company for a long time in a position of trust and in my view were on friendly terms with the directors. What you did was despicable and has damaged them significantly."
Judge Ford told Crawford that he would defer her sentence for six months and expected her to make efforts to pay as much money as possible back each two months until then. Crawford will be sentenced in November.