Five workers 'laid off' after woman steals £35,000 from Manchester firm

Sarah Cunningham avoided a prison sentence due to her undergoing chemotherapy. Credit: MEN Media

A woman has narrowly avoided jail after she stole £35,000 from her workplace, which resulted in five people being made redundant.

Manchester Crown Court heard how 41-year-old Sarah Cunningham "left a trail of destruction" when she started stealing money from Manchester firm Velo Systems less than four weeks after starting at the company.

Cunningham, from Chesterfield, pleaded guilty to theft by employee, but has been spared a jail sentence after the court heard she is currently receiving treatment for cervical cancer.

The court heard she was given access to the company's banking system, but was not able to make payments without prior approval.

To work around this, Cunningham set up an account with a similar name to an existing client. On 29 April 2019, Cunningham transferred £4,550 from the company account to herself using the fake client account.

Over the next month, Cunningham would make eight more payments using this method.

During that time, she stole a total of £35,810 from the company and sent the money was then sent to various members of her family.

Her mother received £25,555.08, while her father was sent £7,700. She also sent £2,030 to her sister.

Cunningham was sentenced at Manchester Crown Court after she stole more than £35,000 from her employer. Credit: MEN Media

Another accountant at the company eventually noticed the withdrawals, and contacted the client Cunningham was posing as to confirm they had not received any payments.

When first asked about the missing money, Cunningham said her mum had been "rushed into hospital after suffering a stroke" and she had to leave work.

Prosecuting, Robin Kitching said it was a chance for Cunningham to "escape".

Shortly after leaving the office, police officers arrested Cunningham and found a series of new, expensive items at her home.

Robin Kitching said: "Police recovered a large number of brand new items of clothing, electrical items and receipts for further purchases, totalling very significant sums."

Cunningham gave no comment during her police interview, but would go on to plead guilty at a court hearing.

At Cunningham's sentencing, business owner Aria Taheri described the repercussions of Cunningham's actions as "nothing short of devastating," and "wreaking havoc on the lives of numerous employees".

He told the court that "five or six" workers had to be laid off as the company struggled with cashflow issues following Cunningham's actions, while he personally put £50,000 into the business to save it, before eventually selling it at a loss last year. 

Aria said: "The weeks that ensued were filled with sleepless nights and the need for therapy to address the turmoil that consumed me."

Defending, Brendan O'Leary told the court his client expressed "genuine remorse" for her actions. 

He explained that Cunningham, who has two children aged 14 and five, has "reassessed her position" since 2019.

He said: "It's clear that there were negative influences around her in Manchester. 

“She took a positive step to move away and try to start afresh... she has stayed out of trouble since then."

Mr O'Leary added that Cunningham was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2021 and is undergoing chemotherapy, with her health being a key reason why the case had taken so long to get to sentence. 

He said: "It has been a difficult and traumatic time for a single mum who contemplates mortality and, perhaps, what she has done in the past."

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