Wednesday 19 December 2018

JK Rowling's husband brands her former assistant a 'good liar'

Neil Murray, the husband of author JK Rowling, leaves Airdrie Sheriff Court. Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Neil Murray, the husband of author JK Rowling, leaves Airdrie Sheriff Court. Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Paul Ward, Press Association Scotland

A FORMER assistant of JK Rowling accused of fraudulently using her credit card for spending sprees was a "good liar", according to the Harry Potter author's husband.

He told a court in Scotland they were taking action as a "point of principle".

Amanda Donaldson leaves Airdrie Sheriff Court. Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Amanda Donaldson leaves Airdrie Sheriff Court. Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire

Dr Neil Murray said Amanda Donaldson was employed to organise his wife's business and professional matters.

She was suspended and later dismissed in 2017 over alleged unauthorised spending that included £3,629 in retailer Molton Brown, £2,139 in card shop Paper Tiger and more than £1,800 in Starbucks and Costa coffee shops.

Rowling claims Ms Donaldson wrongly benefited from the credit card and by taking Harry Potter merchandise to a total value of almost £24,000 and is seeking damages in the civil case.

Ms Donaldson denies the claims against her.

JK Rowling (Yui Mok/PA)
JK Rowling (Yui Mok/PA)

Asked by the author's lawyer why one of the country's wealthiest people is pursuing an action over a relatively small amount of money, Dr Murray, 47, said: "I would say there is a matter of principle here.

"I firmly believe Amanda has stolen a substantial amount of money and Harry Potter merchandise in the office that was for sick and dying children.

"She continues to deny any of it. I feel personally that we have a duty to protect any future employer. If this was a small business she could have ruined it."

Airdrie Sheriff Court heard Dr Murray was a co-manager of his wife's business affairs and an accountant raised concerns with him over the personal assistant's spending between 2014 and 2017.

He said the biggest concern was over cash withdrawals of £400 and £250 in December 2016 that Ms Donaldson claimed were for a Christmas lunch deposit at Castle Terrace restaurant in Edinburgh.

Chartered accountant Steven Simou earlier told the court he had contacted the restaurant and found no deposit had been requested or taken off the final bill.

In his evidence, Dr Murray, said an email Ms Donaldson claimed to have received from the restaurant confirming the deposit was in fact faked by the former PA.

He said: "The restaurant confirmed no deposit was taken and no email was sent. I believe she fraudulently created that email in order to justify that spend."

Dr Murray told the court he challenged Ms Donaldson over the money in "an astonishing encounter".

He said: "Amanda had always adopted a lively, slightly bubbly, a bit scatty demeanour.

"I thought she might be emotional or run about the office looking for bits of paper but what I found was a completely different personality.

"She shut down, was calm and basically lied. At the end of the encounter I was really taken at how good a liar she was."

The author's husband said there was a small staff of four full-time and two part-time workers who shared an office with Amanda in Edinburgh.

Asked by Rowling's solicitor Ms MacDonald if there was any reason for the £3,629 spend at Molton Brown, Dr Murray said: "Well not for the office, it doesn't make sense.

"I think the vast majority was purchased by Amanda for Amanda."

Dr Murray said there was "no question" about what the credit card was meant to be used for.

"This was a business card to facilitate my wife's business life," he told the court.

He added: "I heard from office staff there was an occasion Amanda was out socially with staff and they bought pizza.

"Amanda offered to pay for the group and took out the business credit card. I was told she said 'don't worry, Neil doesn't check this card'."

Ms Donaldson's lawyer said Dr Murray was carrying out a "character assassination" of her client.

The witness said he had "seen two sides" to Ms Donaldson, before and after raising the disciplinary matter over the money.

Earlier, accountant Mr Simou told the civil case he had analysed the credit card account after a concern was raised with him believed it was fraudulent activity.

He said: "I was just quite shocked to see so many expenses there, clearly not of a business nature."

He added: "Certain expenses stood out more than others - Costa, Starbucks, bakeries, Boots and other High Street shops you wouldn't normally associate with a business spend."

Cross-examined by Ms Donaldson's lawyer, Mr Simou said he did not know what instructions Ms Donaldson had been given for using the card.

The civil case before Sheriff Derek O'Carroll continues later in December.

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