A COMPANY secretary who siphoned off £90,000 from her employer to pay crippling debts has been spared an immediate jail term.
Donna Louise Smith, 40, from Preston, who was said in court to be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after witnessing the Tunisian beach shootings in 2015, was given a 16-month prison sentence suspended for two years.
The city’s Crown Court heard that Smith, of Ridley Road, Ashton, stole the cash over an 18-month period, making more than 400 payments to herself from the estates management company where she had worked for 15 years.
By doing so she betrayed her boss Helen Standing, who had even allowed her to live rent- free in one of her properties to help her recover from financial difficulties after her first husband died and she became caught up in a spiral of gambling debts and pay-day loans.
When the thefts came to light she sent her boss a confession by text, saying: “I’m sorry, I will pay them back. I was desperate and so ashamed Helen, I had debts backing up and stole the money. I know you have been nothing but good to me.
“I’m a disgrace and I have to live with this for the rest of my life.”
The petite blonde, who pleaded guilty, swayed from side to side in the dock as Joe Allman, prosecuting, described how an external accountant had reviewed the business accounts of the company, Helen Standing Ltd, and asked for an explanation of payments made to two payees.
A probe found they were the bank accounts of the defendant and her husband.
He added: “Miss Smith was the management accountant and also the secretary and one of her daily roles was to pay bills and to manage the cash flow from one of the company accounts.
“She had known Miss Smith for many years as she first came to work for her on a youth training scheme.
“On February 7, 2011, she moved into a property which Miss Standing owned with her husband Neil.
“In 2013 Miss Standing attended her wedding and she was aware Miss Smith had financial difficulties. To help her out of those she allowed her to live in the property the majority of the time without paying any rent.
“When Miss Standing looked into it those were accounts held in the name of her husband Neil Smith. She then set about trying to contact the defendant for an explanation and Miss Smith responded by text, apologising and admitting the theft.”
In subsequent messages she said she did not want to leave her kids, but that she would go to the police station. She revealed bailiffs had attended her address with court orders.
Bob Golinski, defending, said: “It’s clearly a significant breach of trust.
“The worst aspect of this is that she broke the trust of her friend, someone with whom she had a very longstanding working relationship with and who had placed a significant degree of trust in her.
“The background to her debt is a curious one. She does have a history of mental health difficulties since her teenage years and most recently she has been diagnosed with PTSD following her presence at the dreadful shootings in Tunisia.
“She lost her first husband. She fell into gambling which led to pay day loans which led to difficulties in repaying those, and the solution she found was through her employment.”
Helen Standing Ltd, which is linked to the pub trade and based at the South Preston Office Village, Cuerden Way, Bamber Bridge, did not wish to comment.