Woman's £180,000 scam 'fantasy life' uncovered when she went shopping in B&Q

Tracy Ellis. Credit: Liverpool Echo

A woman who swindled her employer out of £180,000 was found out when she went shopping in B&Q.

Tracy Ellis lived out a "fantasy life" as she lavished family members with gifts, funded by swindling her employer out of huge sums of money over a period of more than five years.

Her actions have been described as a "betrayal" to the small firm for which she worked as a bookkeeper for nearly a decade.

Liverpool Crown Court heard on Monday 10 July, that the 52-year-old was first employed by Prescot-based building contractor Ingham and Garner Ltd - a company involved in refurbishments, extensions and fit outs for public sector clients such as the NHS and local authorities - in September 2013, and became "solely responsible" for its accounts.

Christopher Hopkins, prosecuting, described how Ellis, of Hall Street in St Helens, was tasked with paying invoices and looking after petty cash as part of her role.But, on 9 May last year, company director Jennifer Burrows noticed that the business account had been used to complete a £37.80 transaction at B&Q in St Helens the previous day. She then confronted the defendant, as they were the only members of staff who had been untrusted with the pin number for this card.

While Ellis - who is also known as Tracy Hatton - initially "suggested it might have been another employee", she then admitted that she had made the purchase but claimed "it had been an accident and she had mistaken the company card for her own".

This caused Ms Burrows to carry out further checks on the account, at which point she saw that the mother-of-three had repaid the sum "along with a further payment".

Tracy Ellis was jailed for two years and eight months at Liverpool Crown Court. Credit: Liverpool Echo

But she also spotted that the card had previously been used to carry out another suspicious transaction on 5 May, while a £300 withdrawal had been made from a cash machine on 22 April.

The boss then found a record of payment to a Preston-based skip company on Ellis' desk, a document which stated that the funds had actually been transferred to her personal bank account.

This prompted a full internal investigation, which found that the fraudster had stolen a total of £181,958.95 from her employer over the course of 139 separate transactions dating as far back as January 2017.

These had been made into 12 separate accounts, including those of her family members.

Ellis "phoned in sick" after the theft was first discovered, and she was later dismissed. Mr Hopkins added: "The defendant was plainly well thought of by the company."She was highly trusted. This is a gross breach of that trust." Ellis, who has no previous convictions, has since "found employment at a much lower level". Andrew McInnes, defending, told the court: "References suggest a positive good character."She has clearly been a good and supportive friend but for some reason it seems she has taken a destructive path, leading to the defendant's shame before the court. She is terrified at the prospect of what might follow."There is a history of anxiety and depression following the birth of her first son. There is a suggestion of low mood."That depression was exacerbated by the deaths of her mother and sister within weeks in 2014. She assumed responsibility for her niece."She was almost living some sort of fantasy, that she had an income beyond the income she received. Her low self-esteem led to a desire to please people.

"There are clearly elements of escapism by buying things and giving family members money. She was drinking to excess, which clouded her judgement.

"She tells me she knew that at some point she would be caught. She has precious little left to show for it.

"She is extremely remorseful. She is genuinely devastated by her behaviour.

"It is hard to envisage a woman like Tracy Ellis before this court at all, let alone in these circumstances for such a significant amount of money.

"She has clearly taken a foolish and criminal decision at a low point in her life, which has snowballed out of control - she buried her head in the sand for many years."Ellis admitted fraud by abuse of position. She was jailed for two years and eight months.She is set to be hauled back before the same court later this year, when she could be ordered to repay her ill-gotten gains under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Sentencing, Recorder Eric Lamb said: "You abused that position in order to enrich yourself and others. Although your actions were directed against the company, you knew all too well and all too personally the people involved - just as they knew you."There is, of course, a different side to your character. You are of positive good character, and there is genuine remorse."You resorted to a fantasy life at a time of low self-esteem, seeking escapism in giving gifts and drinking heavily. The impact on the company has been substantial.

"It has understandably been stressful for those remaining at the company. They are left to feel hurt and upset by what they would sense was a betrayal that had taken place."

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