Brewery accounts worker jailed for £400k fraud

A former accounts worker at St Austell Brewery has been jailed for five years for stealing more than £400,000 via hundreds of fake transactions over a period of years

Truro Crown Court heard that Lesley Freestone worked in the accounts department at the historic craft beer company for 42 years, becoming purchase ledger supervisor, and had ‘unfettered access’ to the payment systems.

After her retirement the 160-year-old Cornish brewery - famous for its real ales such as Tribute and Proper Job - conducted a review of its systems, following its purchase of Bath Ales.

This discovered hundreds of fraudulent payments had been diverted to Freestone's accounts, using methods such as duplicating invoices, amounting to £444,329 between 2007 and 2016.

Sentencing Freestone, Judge Simon Carr said ‘the fraud had a degree of sophistication, creating a false paper trail to hide money in your accounts.’

An impact statement given to the court from the financial director of the brewery said profits were affected, meaning shareholders received lower dividends, and employees received a lower bonus than they should have been entitled to.

A St Austell Brewery spokesperson said: ‘In October 2016, St Austell Brewery became aware of past financial irregularities - over a sustained period - and immediately reported the matter to Devon and Cornwall Police.

‘One of our former employees, Lesley Freestone, appeared in court and pleaded guilty to embezzling funds from a company account.

‘Although we were not able to recover the funds that were stolen, we are satisfied with the five-year sentence given and relieved that the lengthy court proceedings have now reached a conclusion.’

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