AN accounts manager who stole nearly £700,000 from Ashton firm Mockridge Labels and Nameplates avoided jail because of the Covid-19 crisis.
Mother-of-two Sandra Greaves, 61, of Smallshaw Lane, Ashton, was handed an 18-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, after the court heard of her serious heart condition and COPD.
Greaves, who was described in Minshull Street Crown Court as having a “chronic gambling addiction”, had pleaded guilty to stealing a net £105,453 after paying back some of the money while an additional sum was recouped from a gambling firm. The total amount taken from the company was £667,000.
Judge John Edwards told Greaves he was following Covid-19 related legal guidelines: “We are living in strange and dangerous times and were I to send you to prison which you richly deserve, the repercussions could be dire.
“You have serious health problems and are deemed by doctors a high-risk patient who is particularly susceptible to Covid-19. But I want to you to know that is the only reason I’m not sending you to prison.
“There’s nothing to thank me for because you should be going to prison. Small businesses like this can ill afford the indulgence of dishonest employees in whom they place great trust.
“The by word for this company is loyalty and you displayed a compete absence of it. This was rank greed, no more, no less.’’
The court heard Greaves, who had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to fraud by abuse of position, used the stolen cash to play online slot machines.
The thefts took place between January 2016 and August 2018 – the company believes they could have begun far earlier as she joined the company in 2004 – and she syphoned off up to £26,000 a day into her own bank account and used the money when visiting online gaming sites where she played games including Jackpot Joy and online roulette.
Greaves used some of her winnings to pay outstanding company invoices, thereby covering her tracks.
Philip Hall, prosecuting, told the court the Mike Mockridge had since 1966 built a successful and profitable company with a large national and international customer base.
He said: ‘’Mr Mockridge refers to the foundations of his company being built on employee loyalty and dedication, in return Mr Mockridge and his company believe in going the extra mile to help their staff wherever possible.
‘Sandra Greaves was trusted with unrestricted access to the company bank account in order to undertake her role of managing and making payments to suppliers and was trusted with a Bankline Card and Bankline Card Machine which allowed her unchecked freedom to transfer money from the company bank account.
‘’During her employment there were several occasions where her health issues were exacerbated due to her financial constraints and the company stepped in to provide support and personal assistance including, allowing extended periods of leave, providing zero interest loans, and assistance to install a new boiler at her home.’’
Mockridge Labels, AshtonMr Hall explained the thefts were uncovered in August 2018 when Greaves was on holiday and the firm was contacted by a supplier who said there were outstanding invoices which meant they could no longer provide any more goods.
Inquiries revealed suppliers’ invoices had been marked as ‘paid’ by Greaves when in fact no payment had been made.
Mr Hall added: “Sandra Greaves later explained she had stolen the money to fund her gambling addiction and that she hoped to repay the money before anyone had noticed.
“Following her dismissal she provided a handwritten letter addressed to Mr Mockridge in which she said she was ‘deeply sorry’ and explained that she loved her job and the people at the company.
“She asked to be reinstated with a pay rise of £250 a month to allow her to repay the company. The investigation showed Greaves was transferring sums ranging from a few hundred pounds in a day up to in excess of £26,000 in one day.
“Her bank accounts shows significant spending on online gambling and money transfers were made from her own account to pay suppliers in order to cover up her behaviour.
“The total amount paid to suppliers from Greaves’ account was £520,864.98. There were payments made by Greaves from her bank account to gambling websites and the winnings she had received. This revealed that she had a significant gambling habit.
“After deductions are made for the money repaid and the money paid directly to suppliers, the actual final loss to Mockridge was £105,453.89. The online gambling company Jackpot Joy has divested £96,531 back to Mockridge. But two other gambling companies used by Greaves have not co-operated with the police.’’
Mr Hall also read an impact statement from the company which has a 47-strong workforce.
It said: “As a result of these thefts, the goal of the company has become survival. Over the past 54 years we have built up a large customer base of both national and international customers and we were considered to be a market leader within our industry.
“Sadly this position has been severely compromised due to the financial constraints placed upon the company as a result of the actions of one employee.
“We now find ourselves having to compete for orders at the lower end of the market just to ensure that we can sustain what was once both a viable and profitable business.
“The company had to cut overtime and there was no annual pay increase. There was a drop in its credit rating, some suppliers insisted paying up front and capital expenditure was frozen.”
It was also revealed the case had taken a “huge toll” on the health of Mr Mockridge and could have closed the business he started 54 years ago.
Andrea Lock, defending, admitted Greaves’ actions had a “catastrophic” effect on the company.
In mitigation, she praised Greaves for pleading guilty and for assisting the company with its investigation and after leaving hospital went with company bosses to the bank to “try and unravel the mess”.
Miss Lock added: “Mrs Greaves has chronic ongoing health problems including CPOD and a serious heart condition but still attended court today despite being classed as highly vulnerable.
“At the time of the offending, Mrs Greaves was in the grip of a chronic gambling addiction brought on as a result of her fragile mental health stemming from her poor physical health.
“She has a number of extremely serious health problems which have caused a drastic deterioration in her heath over recent years. All the conditions require urgent, intensive and long-term medical treatment.
“She is genuinely remorseful and while the conclusion of her letter contains a rather misguided request, the court is asked to accept the letter as evidence of both her remorse and fragile mental health. Her health conditions are so serious that such incarceration could prove fatal.”