The Hardwick: Celebrity chef 'gobsmacked' couple who defrauded him out of £150,000 avoid jail
A celebrity chef has criticised a judge's decision to allow a husband and wife to escape jail after defrauding him out of £150,000.
Stephen Terry fell victim to mother-of-five Nicola Nightingale who worked as a financial administrator at The Hardwick restaurant in Abergavenny.
Mr Terry, who trained under Marco Pierre White and was best man at Gordon Ramsay’s wedding, opened the award-winning gastropub in 2005 and it has since become known as one of the best restaurants in the country.
Nightingale's role included paying invoices and employees, however, it was discovered she had created false transactions paying money to herself and husband Simon.
The court heard mother-of-five Nightingale, 47, stole £150,000 from the restaurant - and transferred over £46,000 into the account of husband Mr Nightingale, 50 - as the couple jetted off on trips abroad to Eurodisney, Disney World Florida, France and Morocco.
Mr Terry looked at the accounts to discover two £40,000 loans had been taken out in his name along with a £10,000 shortfall in the pension pot.Giving evidence, he previously said: "I think it took Nicola about four weeks to start taking money from us from when she started. She didn't hang about."
In a victim impact statement, chef Mr Terry said: "This has caused significant reputational damage and is very hard to accept as we built this business from scratch and worked very hard to get to where we are now."
Mrs Nightingale pleaded guilty to fraud and Mr Nightingale was convicted of possessing criminal property after a trial in February, however both received two-year suspended sentences at Cardiff Crown Court.
Recorder Barry Clarke said concern for the care of their children was a factor in not sending them immediately to prison.
"We've only survived by the skin of our teeth"
Speaking after the hearing he said he was “gobsmacked” the pair had not gone to prison.
He told the South Wales Argus: “I’m very disappointed if I’m honest. I’m absolutely shocked she didn’t go to prison.
“What message does this send out about white collar crime?
“It says white collar crime pays. Just make sure you’ve got kids.”
He added: “We heard of what the impact of custody might have been on their children been but what about what about our family?
“My wife’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and passed away during this.
“Everything just seems to be in their favour.
“We could have lost our business and our house and we’ve only survived by the skin of our teeth.
“I was adamant she was going to prison today. I am absolutely gobsmacked.”
Defending Susan Ferrier, for Mrs Nightingale, said she was seeking help for her alcohol problem.She said: "Buying things became a way of coping and she became addicted, due to her addictive personality, to what she discovered she could do."
Her husband, Simon Nightingale, 50, who also worked at the restaurant, denied acquiring criminal property which related to £46,741.57 that had been paid into his account, but was convicted by a jury.
Millie Davies of the CPS said: “Nicola Nightingale took advantage of her position of trust within the business and used the opportunity for her own gain.
“The CPS presented evidence showing there had been 55 transactions to Simon Nightingale’s account.
“Instead of the money going towards legitimate business costs it ended up lining the pockets of two dishonest employees who have today been brought to justice.”
He handed the husband and wife two year sentences suspended for two years. They must both also carry out 100 hours of unpaid work.He said: "There is no doubt in my mind that sending you to prison would have a lasting impact on your younger children."Mrs Nightingale must also take part in a 12 day rehabilitation activity.