Two sisters jailed following £1.3million fraud of Cumbrian business

Joanne and Stephanie Palmer were sentenced at Carlisle Crown Court. Credit: Craig McGlasson

Two sisters have been jailed for making threats to “finish” a family-run Cumbrian haulage business and hurt a director’s family during a £1.3 million fraud.

Joanne Palmer, 40, and her 38-year-old sibling Stephanie Palmer targeted two English firms based 150 miles apart by bombarding unsuspecting staff members with phone calls.

The Palmers first made cold calls to haulier SI & S Hastings, based near Penrith, Cumbria, making repeated offers to provide advertising which never materialised.

Joanne Palmer was convicted at Carlisle Crown Court. Credit: Craig McGlasson

Yet in follow-up calls, the fraudsters falsely claimed there had been oral consent and therefore a “verbal contract”. Prosecutor Tim Evans said the sisters then “smelled panic” and went “into overdrive”, making numerous daily calls to the secretary’s business and mobile phones, giving her “no escape”.

“The calls threatened that bailiffs would be at her home within the hour if she did not make payments,” said the prosecutor. “They were abusive. They threatened to finish her business. There were some threats against family members. Due to the threats being made she was scared and convinced that the threats would be carried out, so began to make payments.”

The woman, he added, was “embarrassed” when transferring the money, and “frightened for the safety of her family”.

Both sisters made calls, the court heard, and also persuaded the woman to hand over even more money having “changed tack” by promising to help recover cash if she made more funds available.

She was initially reluctant to raise the alarm. But the sisters were caught red-handed after woman’s daughter was alerted. She switched calls to her own phone, pretended to be her mother and made recordings which were transferred to police. Concerns had previously been raised by bank staff concerned by “enormous” withdrawals which were deemed suspicious.

Cash sums totalling an eye-watering £1.22 million had been made by that Cumbrian company with money funnelled through different bank accounts. Hundreds of thousands of pounds in ill-gotten gains were channelled through those held in the sisters’ names. More cash went into accounts belonging to two other women who assumed criminal money laundering roles.

Kelly Shaw, 41, received tens of thousands of pounds while a fourth woman, Stephanie Charnock, 43, was involved in the transfer of criminal property in four-figure sums.

The Palmer sisters had also trained their sights on a second business, the Bridlington Shellfish Company on England’s east coast. Again money was demanded from the now former company secretary in respect of non-existent advertising with almost £70,000 handed over.

Stephanie Palmer was convicted at Carlisle Crown Court. Credit: Craig McGlasson

Phones and paperwork seized after the Palmer sisters’ arrests allowed detectives to painstakingly piece together what had happened and bring them to court.

The Palmer sisters, both of The Precinct, Romiley, Stockport, had set up companies as vehicles to make the fraud they admitted appear real.

Defence barrister Jane Dagnall, for mother and grandmother Joanne Palmer, said her offending was “part of a wider-arching crime”, adding: “There are clearly many others involved, more sophisticated.”

During an earlier trial the pair admitted fraud.

Joanne Palmer was jailed for four years and Stephanie Palmer — described as “ashamed and disgusted” of her role — was locked up for 45 months.

At Carlisle Crown Court, Judge Nicholas Barker told the siblings: “Not once did you have any care or sympathy for your victim. Your intention was to simply bleed her dry, and you did this in a callous and determined way.”

Shaw, of Winterburn Green, Stockport, ‬had a 12-month jail term suspended for two years, and must complete rehabilitation work and a four-month night time curfew. ‪Charnock, of Maplecroft, Stockport, received a community order which includes 120 hours’ unpaid work.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...