A financial assistant has been jailed after stealing £100,000 from her employer to fund an ‘Instagram lifestyle’.
Laura Howarth, 41, flew ‘weekly’ from British Independent Utilities in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire.
Preston Crown Court heard she bought a white SUV car, hair extensions and VIP concert tickets using the stolen money, copying the lifestyles of other glamorous women, including his wife’s boss, and posting the results of his spending spree on Instagram.
The mother-of-two earned over £900 a month and owed “a few thousand” in payday loans.
The court heard that she only stopped stealing from her bosses when she went on holiday or was on maternity leave.
Howarth, of Devona Avenue, Blackpool, has even applied for credit card limit extensions to allow him to steal up to £6,000 a month. When the thefts were discovered, in August 2018, she claimed she had shared the money with her work colleagues.
However, imprisoning him for 10 months for theft, Judge Richard Gioserano told him: “You stole a lot of money to provide yourself with a lifestyle that you could not afford – a glimpse of which you can see on your Instagram account.”
Howarth was employed by the company in 2013 and asked to take care of petty cash and expense accounts.
Stuart Neale, prosecuting, said she started flying “almost immediately”. In August of the same year, she withdrew £50 from a Royal Bank of Scotland ATM, although cash withdrawals were prohibited by the company.
She then added the money to a legitimate claim when she entered it into the Sage accounting system, so the books appeared balanced.
When she realized she could get away with it, Howarth withdrew an average of £3,000 a month.
In November 2016 she spent £6,000 of company money in a month, the court heard. But in August 2018, financial controller Chris Russell was examining the company’s credit cards and discovered one – used by Howarth – had been used to withdraw cash.
Later, he found a credit card statement on his desk. An investigation was opened and Howarth was suspended from her job. That night, she sent a WhatsApp message to her employer, saying, “I’m sorry for everything.”
Russ Priestley, owner of British Independent Utilities, said: “I’ve worked over 100 hours a week, sacrificing social time and time with my family to grow this business.
“These events have made me question my choices and fundamentally make me look at people differently.”
He said he was suspicious of Howarth when he saw her driving a new Kia Sportage.
On another occasion, after spending £500 a ticket to see his favorite comedian on stage in Manchester, Priestly was shocked to see Howarth and her husband sitting in the row behind.
Anthony Parkinson, defending, said his client had always been a hard worker and had no previous convictions. The impact of his offense would be felt by his extended family, he said.
Sentencing Howarth, Judge Gioserano said: “You tried to cover up your thefts with fake accounts, and you did so for a long time.
“Not only did you cover your tracks, but you increased the card limit so you could steal more.
“You tried to blame others in the sense that you said what you took out was given to other employees – and that was a very limited pool.
“Most importantly, you accept that you stole this money not to alleviate genuine financial hardship, not to pay for treatment in a private hospital for a sick family member, but to fund a lifestyle that you could not afford it otherwise. Honest hard-working people work hard to try to afford it, and if they can’t afford it that way, they just accept it. They don’t resort to stealing to fund it. .