£100K fraud risked putting firm out of business


Neil Bellis

A MAN committed a £100,000 fraud which nearly caused a family-run business to go bust to pay for his two daughters’ £7,000 per term private school education, a court heard.
Andrew Clarke, 42, pleaded guilty at Chester Crown Court yesterday to one count of fraud between May 2012 and August 2013 when he was financial controller of F. E. Robinson Ltd, in Hooton.
Meirion Lewis-Jones, prosecuting, told the court Clarke had been hired by the managing director, Guy Williams, as a financial controller of the company.
He told the court the company makes “tooling materials” which are used by Airbus, in Broughton, as well as consumer products such as wood-burning stoves.
Mr Lewis-Jones said the company, which has 30 staff, nearly went out of business due to the fraud until a member of the Williams family put in £150,000 to keep the company going.
Mr Lewis-Jones said Mr Williams became suspicious of Clarke, of Lyndale Avenue, Merseyside, after working with him for about seven months when the accounts he produced seemed “too optimistic”. 
Mr Williams then called in an external accountancy firm to look into the books and initially found nothing.
Mr Lewis-Jones said Clarke began acting suspiciously by taking holidays whenever the external accountancy firm was checking the figures. He said Mr Williams became convinced the firm was missing money.
Mr Lewis-Jones said the firm then found Clarke had been giving in false invoices using legitimate suppliers names to the company with his bank details on. A total of £102,063.42 was stolen by Clarke.
When arrested by police Clarke admitted his guilt. 
He was also confronted by Mr Williams and confessed to what he was doing and paid back £8,000.
Mr Lewis-Jones told the court Clarke had previous convictions for fraud. 
He said in 2008, at Guildford Crown Court, he was given a community order for 18 offences of obtaining services by deception. 
In 2009 he was jailed for 15 months for 31 offences of making false representations to make a gain and he had asked for a further 94 offences to be taken into consideration by the court for a total fraud worth £54,803.35 from a southern based accountancy firm.
Peter Barnett, defending, said the offences happened as Clarke felt “under pressure” to continue paying his two daughters’ £7,000 per term school fees at the Royal School, Haslemere, Surrey, from his former partner. He also spent £1,000 on his second wedding to a new partner.
Mr Barnett said Clarke had recently been diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum which meant, in his case, he was unable to tell the difference between problems – such as not being able to pay school fees – from a catastrophe which led him to criminality.
Jailing him, Judge Raj Shetty, said while Clarke may have felt “pressure”, the main motivation was “straightforward greed”.
He said: “Your job was to protect and advance the financial interests of the company but instead you stole its money. 
“This put the company in real jeopardy until the benevolence of a family member saved it.
“I accept you co-operated with the police and your former employers and I accept that due to your autism you may feel pressure and stress easily. 
“But that is no different from what a lot of other people feel and you still know right from wrong.
“The bank statements show you spent most of the money on entertainment and eating out. The main motivation in this case was straight forward greed.
“You wanted to have an excessive and extravagant lifestyle and put at risk decent, working people’s jobs.”
Clarke was jailed by Judge Shetty for two years.
Speaking after the sentence, Guy Williams, managing director of F E Robinson Ltd said: “It is hoped the sentence passed reflects the gravity of the situation and the fact that as a result of such actions, 30, skilled full time jobs from this company were put in serious jeopardy.”

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