Devon fraud: 'Shocking' deception of manager

Image caption,
Helen Moore has laid off dozens of staff because of the fraud at her firm, including 17 on one day

A company boss has sold her factory and could lose her home after her former finance manager stole nearly £900,000.

Clare Roberts, 50, was jailed for four years after siphoning off £877,000 from the fashion business Moore and Moore Design in Witheridge, Devon.

Roberts spent the money on her son's university fees and expensive family holidays to places like Lapland, New York and Majorca.

Boss Helen Moore said nobody suspected Roberts' "extraordinary duplicity".

Image caption,
Roberts' fraud included taking money from pom-pom sales which was meant to go to the Royal British Legion

She stole about £100,000 a year over eight years when she was finance manager, Exeter Crown Court heard.

"It's just so totally shocking," said Ms Moore, speaking since the sentencing.

"She set up an account called L&G, which is the name of our pension provider Legal and General.

"So I saw it on the bank statements and thought, 'That's fine, the pensions are all going into the Legal and General, but despite the name, that account was actually set up as her son's account."

Image caption,
Police say Roberts frittered all the money away and has nothing left

On one occasion Roberts pretended to make a phone call she said was to the pensions regulator.

Ms Moore, 76, overheard the call with Roberts saying: "That is great, so all of the pension contributions are as they should be."

Later investigations found there was nobody on the other end of the phone, but Roberts knew the call would be overheard in what Mrs Moore called "extraordinary duplicity".

The scale of the fraud meant the firm had to lay-off nearly 40 of its 50 staff, including 17 people in one day.

"It was absolutely dreadful, we were all in tears," said Ms Moore.

Roberts even siphoned off money from sales of pom-poms which was meant to go to the Royal British Legion.

Image source, Lindsey Kersey
Image caption,
Lindsey Kersey lent money to the business that ended up in Roberts' son's account

Remaining employees are working in one rented section of the factory which has been sold and Ms Moore said she faces losing her home due to debts run up in the fraud.

Lindsey Kersey, designer and head of operations at the firm, said "suspicions started growing" and after checking the bank statements "it all started to come out".

She was "absolutely gobsmacked" when she found out the amount of money involved.

Image source, Devon and Cornwall Police
Image caption,
Clare Roberts began stealing large amounts from the company within months of being made finance manager

"She didn't drive a nice car, she didn't dress nicely, so it was just beyond belief," said Ms Kersey.

"Who would have thought that somebody in a lovely community like this, who everyone has known for a long time, could be doing something like this to such an amazing woman like Helen?"

The court was told there would be no Proceeds of Crime Act confiscation because all the money had been spent and Roberts had no assets.

The firm's employees were "still determined, we are still here, we are still making amazing products", said Ms Kersey.

"We are like a second family, that's how close we are here."

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