Updated: Friday, 24th November 2017 @ 8:08am

Leigh bride-to-be stole £500,000 from work to fund gambling addiction in bid to be ‘perfect middle-class wife’

Leigh bride-to-be stole £500,000 from work to fund gambling addiction in bid to be ‘perfect middle-class wife’

| By Lauren Brown

A Leigh bride-to-be stole over £500,000 from her Stockport work to fund a secret gambling habit – so she could play the ‘perfect middle-class wife’ to her unwitting fiance.

Charlotte Darwen, 26, appeared to have it all with her two young children, a forthcoming wedding, luxury holidays, new car, a deposit on a house, jewellery, designer clothes and regular seats at star-studded charity balls and sporting events.

She was due to marry her childhood sweetheart, had also lost around three stone at slimming classes and was eagerly counting down the days to her lavish civic ceremony she had booked at a Tudor country mansion.

But unknown to the groom-to-be, family and friends, Darwen was propping up her fairytale life of luxury by secretly gambling on a range of high-stakes online betting games – and stealing money from her employers to fund it.

Despite earning just £15,000 a year as an accounts assistant at a motor accident claims firm, more than £800,000 had been paid as income into her personal bank account over a three-year-period.

She won around £300,000 from her betting sprees but flittered away much of her winnings on luxuries including a trip to Wembley, sports dinners and concerts where she got herself pictured with cyclist Sir Bradley Wiggins and singer Ronan Keating.

She also spent £5,000 on cosmetic surgery, £10,000 towards a car and a £48,000 deposit on a house. By the time her fraud was uncovered, Darwen had blown £419,000 on her gambling sprees alone.

The stolen money was the equivalent of 12 workers’ wages at family-run Action 365 Ltd based in Stockport. The company had since had to lay-off several staff and now has almost half the workforce it used to have.

Meanwhile, pictures on Darwen's Facebook page showed enjoying a string of luxury holidays in Majorca, Florida and several luxury cruises.

At Minshull Street Crown Court, Darwen burst into tears after she was jailed for three years having admitted fraud by abuse of position.

Her wedding to fiance Harrison James, also 26, whom she has been with since they were 19, has been cancelled but the couple are still together.

Passing sentence Judge Maurice Greene told Darwen: “You got involved in a spiral of gambling, stealing money then using it and getting into more debt. Both you and this company have suffered as a result.

“What you did has had an almost devastating effect on this company, members of the company, staff – people who trusted you.”

Darwen had got a job in 2007 as assistant to Acton 365's finance director Eleanor Lumsden and would process bills.

But, in 2011, she began transferring the company into her own bank account by creating false invoices and credit notes and paying herself via BACs.

The frauds came to light in December 2013 during a company audit. Miss Kim Irvine prosecuting said 352 payments had been made into Darwen's bank account and she was asked to explain herself.

Miss Irvine said:  “She said she was sorry and explained that she had a gambling habit and tended her resignation. She had even made a transfer whilst on maternity leave – when she came into the company for a 'keep in touch day'.”

Darwen was later arrested and inquiries showed £508,120 had been unwittingly paid into her account by the firm and £419,500 had been used to fund her gambling habit.

Miss Irvine said: “Money was spent far beyond the defendant's means. There were luxury holidays, £49,000 had been put down as a deposit on a house, £5,000 went on cosmetic surgery, there was an Apple computer, clothing, jewellery, a deposit for a lavish wedding, concerts and sporting event while ten thousand pounds went towards a car.

“She told polices she did have a gambling addiction and admitted stealing to support it.”

Darwen's total income from August 2010 to 2013 had been £823,618. She had won £300,000 through her gambling and her legitimate earnings over the same period was just £37,700.

In a statement, Mrs Lumsden said the thefts had left her ‘absolutely devastated’.

She added: “Miss Darwen was someone I trusted and she had abused her position. The total loss of money was a testament to how devious she has been.”

The court heard that the company could not keep staff in work and had to make a large number of redundancies which Mrs Lumsden said ‘may not have had to happen’.

She added that the fraud had affected ‘a large number of people’. The company now only employs 170 people yet had once employed 300 staff.

Darwen has since been attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings.

In mitigation, her counsel Mr Edmund Haygarth said: "This is one of these cases where someone is relieved that they were caught and rather regret they hadn't been caught earlier.

"She was trusted by people she regarded as friends and quickly regretted what she did.

“Her relationship with her long-standing boyfriend had its ups and downs and they were due to be married last month. The wedding was called off but they are now back together.

“Money was spent on luxuries most working people would not be able to afford so easily. She was also taking out payday loans – sometimes when she had a win she frittered the money away.

"This was not just sheer greed – she felt unable to control the urge to gamble. She said she feels worthless, she has let her family and boyfriend down and employers.

“She was friendly with some of the people who suffered because of her actions. She feels she has betrayed the good upbringing she was given."

After the case, Det Con Andy Devonshire of Greater Manchester Police said: “While many people have been tightening their belts just to make ends meet, Darwen fleeced her company to fund the kind of lifestyle she thought she was entitled to.

“She didn't put in extra shifts or study for qualifications to pay for it – she just siphoned it off the very people who were paying her wages.

“She managed to buy a new house, enjoy holidays and even paid for cosmetic surgery. She has blamed her amassing of a small fortune on a gambling addiction.

“While it is true she spent a considerable amount on gambling websites, her addiction was by no means restricted to games of chance. She was also clearly addicted to what you might call retail therapy.”

Story by Cavendish Press