A financial assistant has been jailed after stealing £100,000 from her employer to fund an “Instagram lifestyle”.
Laura Howarth, 41, stole “every single week” from British Independent Utilities in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire.
Preston Crown Court heard she used the stolen money to buy a white SUV, hair extensions and VIP concert tickets, copied the lifestyles of other glamorous women including her boss’s wife and posted the results of her spending spree on Instagram.
The mother of two was making over £900 a month and owed “a couple thousand” in payday loans.
The court heard she only stopped stealing from her bosses when she went on vacation or was on maternity leave.
Howarth, from Devona Avenue, Blackpool, even applied for credit card limits to be extended to allow her to steal up to £6,000 a month. When the thefts came to light in August 2018, she claimed to have split the money with her co-workers.
However, Judge Richard Gioserano sentenced her to 10 months for theft, telling her, “You stole a lot of money to live a lifestyle you couldn’t afford – you can see a glimpse of it on your Instagram account.”
Howarth was hired by the company in 2013 and asked to look after the petty cash and expense accounts.
Stuart Neale, prosecutor, said she started stealing “almost immediately”. In August of the same year, she withdrew £50 from a Royal Bank of Scotland ATM despite the company’s ban on cash withdrawals.
She then added the money to a legitimate expense report as she entered it into the Sage accounting system to make the books appear balanced.
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Realizing she could get away with it, Howarth went on to withdraw an average of £3,000 a month.
In November 2016, she spent £6,000 in company money in one month, the court heard. But in August 2018, financial controller Chris Russell reviewed the company’s credit cards and discovered that one — used by Howarth — had been used to withdraw cash.
He later found a credit card statement on her desk. An investigation was launched and Howarth was suspended from her job. That evening, she sent her employer a WhatsApp message saying, “I’m sorry for everything.”
Russ Priestley, owner of British Independent Utilities, said: “I’ve worked over 100 hours a week, sacrificing social and family time to build this business.
“These events made me question my choices and look at people in a fundamentally different way.”
He said he had suspicions about Howarth when he saw her driving a new Kia Sportage.
On another occasion, after spending £500 on a ticket to see his favorite comedian on stage in Manchester, Priestly was shocked to see Howarth and her husband seated in the row behind.
Anthony Parkinson, defending himself, said his client had always been a hard worker and had no criminal record. The repercussions of her insult would be felt by her extended family, he said.
Judge Gioserano sentenced Howarth, saying: “You have tried to hide your thefts with false accounting and you have done so for a long time.
“Not only did you cover your tracks, but you also increased the card limit so you can steal more.
“You tried to blame others in the sense that you said what you withdrew was given to other staff – and that was a very limited pool.
“Above all, you accept that you stole this money not to alleviate real financial hardship, not to pay for a sick family member to be treated in a private hospital, but to fund a lifestyle you could not otherwise afford. Honest, hardworking people work hard to try to afford it, and when they can’t afford it, they just accept it. They don’t resort to theft to fund it.”