Tuesday 17 July 2018

Grandmother jailed for stealing €779,000 from boss to fund luxury lifestyle

Sheena Warner leaving Gloucester Crown Court, Gloucester. Photo: Rod Minchin/PA Wire
Sheena Warner leaving Gloucester Crown Court, Gloucester. Photo: Rod Minchin/PA Wire

A trusted grandmother who stole more than £500,000 from her employer to fund a luxurious lifestyle with her toyboy lover was jailed for three years today.

Sheena Warner, 65, almost brought her bosses' quarrying business to its knees during a four year fraud.

Gloucester Crown Court heard the grandmother of two was able to holiday three times a year in the Egypt resort of Sharm El Sheikh, invest in an overseas leisure complex and also drive around in a Land Rover.

Warner - who was trusted to look after the finances of Julian Palmer's quarry businesses - covered her tracks by falsifying entries in the accounts.

She also lied to a suspicious bank manager telling them she was writing cheques to herself to repay money she had loaned Mr Palmer.

In total the crooked personal assistant stole £514,679 from Mr Palmer's companies - causing his marriage to break up, wrecking his retirement plans and almost forcing him into bankruptcy.

Prosecutor Alistair Haggerty told the court the fraud was uncovered in 2013 when Mr Palmer's bank manager told him his business account was £20,000 over his agreed overdraft limit.

Mr Palmer confronted Warner and she admitted she had stolen over £100,000 from him during 2013 and agreed to sell her house, car and other assets to repay him.

In total she paid him £142,000 to cover what she had stolen but hid from him the extent of her crimes, the court heard.

"When Mr Palmer ordered bank statements from all three accounts it became clear she had stolen over £514,000 since 2009," Mr Haggerty said.

"Further inquiries revealed that invoices had not been paid since July 2013 and there was an estimated £40,000 in outstanding bills.

"HM Revenue and Customs were owed £233,000 in unpaid taxes. She had in fact spent the money set aside for PAYE and the Inland Revenue on herself.

"Mrs Warner had covered her tracks by falsifying the accounts.

"There was clearly an element of planning and the fraud went on for a period of time and there was a large degree of trust and autonomy that Mrs Warner enjoyed."

Warner had started working for Mr Palmer in 1999 as a secretary and was promoted to personal assistant in 2007.

When she was interviewed by the police in September 2014, Warner admitted the fraud.

"She admitted writing the cheques and transferring the money. She stated the money was used to pay towards her house and holidays to Egypt and she admitted falsifying records in the accounts," Mr Haggerty said.

"She took three holidays a year to Sharm El Sheikh and she also invested in a leisure complex."

The court also heard details of Mr Palmer's victim impact statement, in which he detailed how the theft had destroyed his life.

"My life has changed considerably since this theft came to light - it has been the worst year of my life," he said.

"We thought we would be declared bankrupt and the stress was too much for my wife who left me.

"I cannot sleep, I lost two stone in weight and I ended up on medication."

Mr Palmer, 66, who has worked in the quarrying industry for over 40 years, said his financial future was now bleak and he feared for the jobs of the 30 people he employed.

"My retirement has been put on hold and my retirement fund has been stolen and my wife has left me," he said.

"I knew Sheena Warner for 15 years and I trusted her so much - the betrayal is as bad as the actual stealing and I never thought she would steal from me.

"The deception has affected my badly and I no longer trust anybody."

Warner, of Tredwell Court, Evesham, Worcestershire pleaded guilty to a single charge of fraud between January 2009 and November 2013.

Alison Scott-Jones, defending, said Warner had fallen in love with a younger man and when the fraud was uncovered sold everything she owned to pay Mr Palmer back.

"Her home, her car and all her private goods - they were all seized and sold and she was effectively left with the clothes she was standing up in," she said.

"She has lost everything as a consequence of her behaviour.

"My client was flattered by the attention of a younger man, who didn't exactly con her but certainly tricked her.

"She is very embarrassed about getting into that position.

"She got herself into a long-term relationship and allowed herself to be used to channel monies which she didn't get the benefit of."

Miss Scott-Jones added that Warner looked after her two grandchildren four or five days a week while her daughters went out to work and that a third grandchild was due in December.

Recorder Gordon Bebb QC jailed Warner for three years telling her that her offending was so serious only a custodial sentence could be justified.

"You were trusted by the company and the company director Mr Palmer who regarded you as a friend," he said.

"When you were confronted you did admit you had been stealing straight away but you didn't admit the full amount of your stealing.

"You put the livelihoods of the people that worked for these companies at risk and you gave Mr Palmer the worst 12 months of his life."

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