Mum stole £100,000 from employer to fund Instagram lifestyle she could not afford

A mum stole £100,000 from her employer to fund her Instagram lifestyle.  A mum stole £100,000 from her employer to fund her Instagram lifestyle.
A mum stole £100,000 from her employer to fund her Instagram lifestyle.

A finance assistant from Blackpool stole £100,000 from her employer to fund an Instagram lifestyle she simply couldn’t afford.

Laura Howarth, 41, splashed out on a white SUV, expensive hair extensions, and VIP concert tickets at the expense of her employer. She copied the lifestyles of other glamorous women, including her boss’s wife, posting the trappings of her lavish lifestyle on social media.

But behind the scenes, the mum-of-two was a modest finance assistant, earning just over £900 a month and owing ‘a couple of thousand’ in payday loans and stole ‘every single week’, the court heard, only stopping when she went on holiday and maternity leave.

Preston Crown Court heard Howarth, of 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 colleagues at British Independent Utilities.

But jailing her for 10 months, Judge Richard Gioserano said: “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.”

In 2013, Howarth was employed by the Times Top 100 company and entrusted to take care of the petty cash and expense accounts. But 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 into the Sage accounting system, to make the books appear to balance. When she realised she could get away with it, Howarth went on to withdraw and an average of £3,000 a month - only stopping when she went on holiday or maternity leave.

In November 2016, she blew £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. when he checked the filing cabinet he was unable to find the card statements but later found one on Howarth’s 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.’

Russell said he had suspicions about Howarth when he saw her driving around in a new Kia Sportage and on one occasion, when he had spent £500 a ticket to see his favourite comedian on stage in Manchester, was shocked to see Howarth and her husband seated in the row behind.

Over the course of the investigation, Mr Priestley said the disgraced employee manipulated colleagues and drove a wedge between members of staff, who were left unable to know who to believe. He said employing people was at the heart of the business but Howarth abused the trust that was placed in her which “fundamentally broke my belief in people.”

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, Judge Gioserano said: “You (Howarth) 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.”