Woman stole £100,000 from her boss to fund 'Instagram lifestyle'

Laura Howarth stole £100,000 from her employer to fund lavish purchases. (Reach)
Laura Howarth stole £100,000 from her employer to fund lavish purchases. (Reach)

A finance assistant has been jailed after she stole £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 that she bought a white SUV car, hair extensions and VIP concert tickets using the stolen money, copying the lifestyles of other glamorous women, including her boss's wife, and posting the results of her spending spree on Instagram.

The mother-of-two was earning over £900 a month and owed "a couple of thousand" in payday loans.

The court heard she only stopped stealing from her bosses when she went on holiday or was on maternity leave.

Howarth, from Devona Avenue, Blackpool, even applied for extensions to the credit card limits to allow her to steal up to £6,000 a month. When the thefts came to light, in August 2018, she claimed she had shared the money with her work colleagues.

However, jailing her for 10 months for theft, Judge Richard Gioserano told her: "You stole a great deal of money to provide a lifestyle you couldn't afford - a glimpse of which can be seen on your Instagram account."

Howarth was employed by the company in 2013 and asked to look after the petty cash and expense accounts.

Stuart Neale, prosecuting, said she started stealing "almost immediately". In August that year she withdrew £50 from a Royal Bank of Scotland ATM, despite cash withdrawals being forbidden by the company.

She then added the money to a legitimate expense claim when she entered it on to the Sage accounting system, to make the books appear to balance.

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A general view of Preston Crown Court, Preston.
Laura Howarth was sentenced at Preston Crown Court to 10 months in prison. (PA)

When she realised 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 of company money in a month, the court heard. But in August 2018, financial controller Chris Russell was reviewing the company credit cards and discovered 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 night, she sent a WhatsApp message to her employer, saying: "I'm sorry for everything."

Russ Priestley, owner of British Independent Utilities, said: "I have worked over 100 hours a week, sacrificing social time and time with my family to build this business up.

"These events have made me question my choices and fundamentally make me look at people differently."

He said he had suspicions about Howarth when he saw her driving a new Kia Sportage.

On another occasion, after he had spent £500 a ticket to see his favourite comedian on stage in Manchester, Priestly was shocked to see Howarth and her husband seated in the row behind.

Anthony Parkinson, defending, said his client had always been a hard worker and had no previous convictions. The impact of her offending would be felt by her wider family, he said.

Sentencing Howarth, Judge Gioserano said: "You attempted to conceal your thefts with false accounting, and you did so over a long period of time.

"You not only covered your tracks but you increased the card limit so that you could steal more.

"You tried to blame others in the sense that you said what you had withdrawn had been given to other employees - and that was a very limited pool.

"Most of all, you accept you stole this money not to alleviate genuine financial hardship, not to pay for private hospital treatment for a sick member of your family, but to fund a lifestyle you couldn't otherwise afford. Honest hardworking people work hard to try and afford this, and if they can't afford it in that way they simply accept that. They do not resort to theft in order to fund it."