Company secretary who stole almost £166,000 from a garden centre over the course of nine years is jailed for 32 months 

  • Lynda Whalley stole almost £166,000 from garden centre over nine years
  • 66-year-old falsified accounts at family-run business in West Yorkshire
  • She transferred money into her bank account and paid for a new kitchen
  • Ladies' golf club captain jailed for 32 months after admitting fraud charges 

A company secretary and ladies' golf club captain who swindled a garden centre out of almost £166,000 over a nine-year period has been jailed for more than two-and-a-half-years.

Lynda Whalley falsified accounts at ACW Garden Centre in West Yorkshire for almost a decade so she could splash the cash on a brand new kitchen worth £4,500 and an all-inclusive holiday.

Bradford Crown Court heard that 66-year-old Whalley's deceit was uncovered last November when accountants picked through the business's receipts and found a number of faked invoices.

Lynda Whalley (pictured outside court today) falsified accounts at ACW Garden Centre in West Yorkshire over a nine-year-period so she could splash the cash on a brand new kitchen worth £4,500 and an all-inclusive trip

Lynda Whalley (pictured outside court today) falsified accounts at ACW Garden Centre in West Yorkshire over a nine-year-period so she could splash the cash on a brand new kitchen worth £4,500 and an all-inclusive trip

When the receipts were queried with the suppliers company, it was found that Whalley - who worked four days a week earning £14,000 annually - had forged two invoice payments. 

Prosecutor Mark Brookes said: 'The defendant then came clean and had a meeting with Mr Walmsley and two other executives, where she paid the money back, along with a letter of her resignation.

'But when the company looked further into it - there was a lot more money that was not accounted for.

'She was then arrested and admitted the full amount of £165,994 being fraudulently taken.'

Whalley, from Bradford, was today sentenced to 32 months in prison for the fraud.

Jailing her and ordering her to pay back just £64,000 - a third of the amount she stole - within three months, Recorder David Dixon said: 'We have heard that you spent some money on a kitchen and a holiday you bought yourself - but where is the rest of it?

Lynda Whalley, 66 from Bradford, was today sentenced to 32 months in prison for the fraud

Lynda Whalley, 66 from Bradford, was today sentenced to 32 months in prison for the fraud

'You were trusted to hold the bank cards and passwords to these accounts for years.

'And stealing this amount equals to roughly £18,500 each year.

'That is a large amount of money for a small and medium sized business to lose year upon year.'

He added: 'I am sure for a struggling small and medium sized business that that money could have been used in repairing some of the company's forklift trucks.'

Andrew Walmsley, managing director of the family-run business, found that transactions were made between September 2006 and October last year.

In a witness statement read out at Bradford Crown Court, he told how Whalley had been a 'trusted' member of the team.

He said: 'Lynda at the point of being caught had worked for my family for three months short of 25 years, initially reporting to my father, and for the last 22 years after I was handed control of ACW mainly to me, we have worked very closely for that period.

'The whole family trusted her without a second thought and we entrusted her with everything in relation to running our business's, she has seen us grow steadily during this period and been a confidante through the high's and low's that are inevitable, the loss of this basic but profound trust is the most hurtful part of this ordeal.'

He also told the court how the company had been going through a difficult time three years ago, but despite being fully-aware of the situation, Whalley continued to steal money from ACW.

Her role at the company saw her being solely responsible for dealing with all financial matters for both ACW Garden Centre in Bradford and the family firm's sister company, Woodbank Nurseries and Garden Centre in Harden, Bingley.

Mr Walmsley said the company was 'lucky to survive' and this was not helped thanks to the continued theft of a long-term and trusted employee.

Bradford Crown Court heard that 66-year-old Whalley's (pictured) deceit was uncovered last November when accountants picked through the garden centre's business receipts and found a number of faked invoices
Jailing her and ordering her to pay back just £64,361.12 - a third of the amount she stole - within three months, Recorder David Dixon said: 'We have heard that you spent some money on a kitchen and a holiday you bought yourself - but where is the rest of it?'

Bradford Crown Court heard that 66-year-old Whalley's (pictured) deceit was uncovered last November when accountants picked through the garden centre's business receipts and found a number of faked invoices

It is thought Whalley had used the money to fund a lavish lifestyle, which included a number of holidays and other expensive items.

To explain her spending to people, Whalley said she had received an inheritance after a death of a relative but Mr Walmsley later found out she had told friends a different story about having two small lottery wins.

Mr Walmsley said: 'Her actions have of course weakened our business and we have spent many days and months trying to understand why our business was becoming weaker and weaker.

'The impacts are varied, such as a fork lift and delivery van that are well past their best, we have been unable to afford replacements over the duration of this fraud. Lynda was fully aware that we were borrowing money from our sister company to survive the lean winter months, this did not stop her fraud.

Recorder David Dixon initially sentenced Whalley (pictured) to four years in prison but this was reduced to 32 months because of the early plea

Recorder David Dixon initially sentenced Whalley (pictured) to four years in prison but this was reduced to 32 months because of the early plea

'The weakness came to a significant point three years ago when we reported our worst ever results. Much soul searching was done amongst all the staff and family with the effect that our whole staff for the first time in the company history did not receive a pay rise that year, Lynda as it turned out carried on regardless.'

Whalley was one of two members of staff, of which over 100 are employed at ACW, invited to Mr Walmsley's two-day wedding six years ago and was considered a friend of the family.

When she started at the company, Whalley worked under Mr Walmsley's father, Mick.

Whalley, who had no previous convictions, was caught during an annual audit when certain transactions were checked, which led to the company finding out she had made payments about once every fortnight.

There was no evidence of paperwork or invoices of these transactions.

When a shocked Mr Walmsley found out, he had to call a disciplinary meeting and questioned her over a payment of £956, which she admitted to stealing and paid the company back.

She lied to Mr Walmsley and 'swore' it was the first and only time this had happened.

Following six weeks of investigation, several transactions were uncovered and this was reported to West Yorkshire Police.

Mr Walmsley said: 'The day I had to call a disciplinary meeting with her was probably as bad as it got for me before today. I had spent over a month with this secret and I vomited in my own garden before I left for work that morning. 

'The weeks before and after that, there were countless sleepless nights for me, my family and many of my staff upon finding out about her betrayal. Everybody respected her because she held a position as close to being a family member as was possible.

'We have endeavoured to keep our dignity throughout this ordeal and above all tried not to let this experience taint us so that we are unable to trust all, or any of our staff who we entrust with many capacities involving money, I believe we are achieving this but during my working life things can not be and never will be the same again.'

Whalley, who is a lifelong member and former ladies captain at Bingley St Ives Golf Club, had already pleaded guilty at an earlier trial at Bradford and Keighley Magistrates' Court.

Whalley was just three months shy of having worked at ACW garden centre, Yorkshire, (pictured) for 25 years

Whalley was just three months shy of having worked at ACW garden centre, Yorkshire, (pictured) for 25 years

Recorder David Dixon initially sentenced Whalley to four years in prison but this was reduced to 32 months because of the early plea.

A confiscation order was also made following the sentencing.

Mr Walmsley said he is pleased the case is now over and that justice has been done.

Speaking after the case, PC Toni Hinnells, of the Bradford District Cyber Crime Investigations Team at West Yorkshire Police, said: 'Whalley abused her position of trust to steal hundreds of thousands of pounds from her employers.

'This act of pure greed caused both companies financial difficulties and prevented staff from receiving pay rises.

'Our Proceeds of Crime Act powers will be used to try and recompense these businesses for what they have lost, and I hope that this sentence serves as a deterrent to others from this type of crime.'

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