A TRUSTED employee stole more than £103,000 from the family company where she worked, a court heard.

Hazel Ashley, 64, who had worked for Stoke Lacy-based WMC & A badgemakers for more than 10 years, made some 250 transfers from the company’s accounts to her own over a two-year period.

Nicholas Berry, prosecuting, told Hereford Crown Court that Ashley had held a number of positions at the company over the years, most recently that of company accountant.

An accounting discrepancy of about £15,000 was initially noted by the external accountancy company brought in to sign off the accounts, but Ashley reassured them that it was part of a private loan arrangement.

Her deception was finally discovered when she became unwell prior to the 2018 meeting to sign off the accounts.

Company director Simon Adam called the external accountancy company ‘to sort a few issues’ in Ashley’s absence.

During the telephone call, the external accountant queried whether a three per cent interest rate was sufficient for the loan to Ashley, which Mr Adam knew nothing about.

Directors Simon and Julia Adam ordered an immediate review of the accounts and confronted Ashley directly.

She immediately admitted the theft, blaming financial issues that had begun to accumulate six years previously due to her use of payday loans and online gambling sites.

She told police she had lost all the money she had stolen. She was previously cautioned in 2005 for stealing £2,306 from her then employer, S&A Produce.

Mark Thompson, defending, said that there were exceptional issues in this case and that Ashley had fully admitted the theft, which had been motivated by her need to feed her online gambling addiction.

The court heard she had lost around £50,000 of her own money in addition to the stolen money.

After her dismissal from WMC & A, she was later employed on an agency basis in the accounts department at Brightwells Auctioneers. Brightwells have this morning confirmed that Ashley no longer works for the company.

Ashley arrived at court with a packed suitcase in anticipation of a custodial sentence, and burst into tears as she was handed a two-year sentence, suspended for two years by Judge Daniel Pearce-Higgins.

She must also complete 250 hours unpaid community work.