A 46-year-old accountant whose gambling addiction spiralled out of control has been jailed for three years after he stole nearly £500,000 from a Halifax-based motor group.
Tadcaster man Andrew Bell abused his position as financial controller with Dews Motor Group Limited to transfer the huge sum into his own bank accounts over a number of years and his criminal actions only came to light while he was away from work on holiday.
Prosecutor Joanne Shepherd told Bradford Crown Court today (Thursday) that Bell, of Lakeside Approach, Barkston Ash, was a qualified accountant who began working for the family-run business in 2010.
She said Bell, who had no previous convictions, had control over the company’s online banking and was involved in the settlement of outstanding finance agreements.
In March this year the firm’s managing director received two calls relating to finance agreements which had not been settled and when he checked the banking records he discovered that the money had been paid into Bell’s NatWest account.
Inquiries revealed that between August 2014 and February this year more than £100,000 had been paid into the same NatWest account and the police were alerted.
Miss Shepherd said Bell was asked for an explanation when he returned to work after his holiday and he simply put his head in his hands and said: ”I’ve nothing to say.”
Bell was dismissed from his position and further inquiries revealed that he was the sole director of a company whose bank account had also received sums of money from Dews since March 2011.
Following his arrest in March Bell told police that he had started transferring money into his failing business and he had used stolen cash to fund his online gambling problem.
Bell, who now faces a further court hearing in December under the Proceeds of Crime Act, pleaded guilty to a charge of fraud which covered the period between March 2011 and February 2015 and related to a total sum of £499,563.48.
Miss Shepherd said there had also been an element of “covering his tracks” by Bell.
Barrister Mark Watterson, for Bell, confirmed that the root cause of his client’s offending had been his gambling problem.
Mr Watterson said Bell’s addiction had “spiralled out of control” and after it had caused his business to falter it then led to him committing the fraud on his employers.
Mr Watterson urged Judge Colin Burn to give his client full credit for his early guilty plea to the fraud at a hearing before the magistrates and to take account of the impact that a custodial sentence would have on Bell and his family.
“The amounts involved are such that it is impossible for me to deal with you in any way other than a custodial sentence,” Judge Burn told smartly-dressed Bell.
The judge said he accepted that Bell’s gambling habit had led to his own undertaking failing before he started stealing from his employers in a state of “financial panic”.
“Obviously there will be proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act in which the authorities will be seeking to scrape back, by way of compensation for Dews, some of the money you have taken from them,” noted the judge.
In a statement released after the hearing Detective Constable Ash Nuttall of the Calderdale Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) Team said:”Bell had been subject of an investigation by the Calderdale District POCA team to uncover the scale by which he had been able to enrich himself through criminal activity.
“As well as Andrew Bell spending time in prison we will seek to recoup the money stolen which will be returned to Dews Motor Group.
“This sentence and subsequent confiscation should send a strong message that we remain determined to ensure crime doesn’t pay and we will do everything in our power to track down and arrest those who are benefitting from crime and seize any assets.”