Finance manager jailed for stealing almost £1m from Witheridge company

Clare Roberts

Clare Roberts - Credit: DC Police

A crooked finance manager has been jailed for stealing £877,000 from a design company which was forced to lay off staff because of her fraud. 

Clare Roberts enjoyed the total trust of business founder Helen Moore and used her position to steal about £100,000 a year for almost a decade. 

She used the money to take her unemployed husband and two sons on a string of expensive holidays and to pay off debts, her son’s university fees, and her mother’s mortgage. 

She stole so much from Witheridge-based Moore and Moore Design that it shrunk from employing 50 people and being the village’s biggest employer to being on the verge of collapse. 

Roberts funnelled money through bank accounts in the names of her husband and son and even set up one with the name L&G so she could divert pension payments which should have been paid to the insurance company Legal and General. 

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She lied over and over again to 76-year-old director Mrs Moore, who she persuaded to borrow more and more money from family, friends and the bank, all of which was stolen as soon as it arrived in the company accounts. 

Mrs Moore read out a victim impact statement to Exeter Crown Court telling how she and her family had been devastated by the thefts and she has been left with debts which she will never be able to repay. 

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She said: “She took hundreds of thousands of pounds while her colleagues were being laid off and managed to give everyone the impression of integrity. 

“It has had a devastating impact on our family. We all trusted her over eight years during which she was ripping our business apart, brick by brick. 

“We have nothing to show for 40 years of hard work. A wonderful business has been brought to its knees by the greed on one individual, I feel shame at having been duped.” 

Roberts, aged 50, of Langley Gardens, Chulmleigh, admitted two counts of fraud and was jailed for four years by Judge David Evans. 

He told her: “You used your position of trust and access to the company’s finance system to systematically remove money from their accounts and transfer it to your own. 

“You took the best part of £1 million. Your dishonesty is startling in its depth and persistence. You chose actively to steal and deceive every time you took money or made prior arrangements and every time you covered it up afterwards.” 

Mr Lee Bremridge, prosecuting, said Moore and Moore was a successful business making home furnishings which was Witheridge’s biggest employer before it was almost destroyed by Roberts’s swindle. 

She joined in December 2010 as a bookkeeper but was promoted to finance manager and began stealing large amounts within months. 

She was only caught because the bank suggested that Mrs Moore bring in an outside finance director. Roberts tried to hide her fraud by withholding accounts but it eventually came to light. 

Roberts explained her frequent expensive holidays by telling Mrs Moore she had won them or competitions or were being paid for by a compensation pay-out to her husband. 

She spent many hours with Mrs Moore discussing the company’s future and urging her to borrow more money without giving any hint that her thefts were the real cause of its problems. 

Mr Bremridge said there would be no Proceeds of Crime Act confiscation because all the money has been spent and Roberts has no assets. 

Mr Peter Lownds, defending, said Roberts had large debts when she started stealing and had been suffering from depression when she carried out much of the fraud. 

He said she is very remorseful and wants to repay the community by working in care when she is released from prison.

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