February 16, 2023 9.57 am This story is over 14 months old

Bookkeeper’s £200k business fraud cost 10 people their jobs

Ten people would not have lost their jobs if the money was available

A bookkeeper who defrauded two companies out of more than £200,000 was arrested by police as she waited for a new kitchen to be delivered.

Joanna O’Brien made 133 transactions to gain £198,175.11 from Horncastle firm EquipMySchool over a two-and-half year period.

Boston Magistrates’ Court heard on Wednesday that ten people would not have lost their jobs in the wake of the Covid pandemic if that money had been available to the firm.

When O’Brien left in November 2021, she immediately started on a similar course of conduct at another business in the town – wholesale nursery W Crowder and Sons – gaining a further £9,926.91.

The 50-year-old, of Mareham Road, Horncastle, had no convictions before pleading guilty to two counts of fraud by abuse of position.

Michael Little, prosecuting, said: “Miss O’Brien held a position of trust in both of these firms.”

He told the hearing that the fraudulent behaviour at international schools supplier EquipMySchool only came to light after she had left “on essentially good terms”.

The new person in the role then began looking into some of the transactions carried out by O’Brien.

“There were 120 that didn’t appear to be genuine transactions and certainly not legitimate,” Mr Little added.

It transpired that between O’Brien had set up three “mini accounts” in the names of Joanna Kirk and a family member using her own contact details and phone number.

“Upon arrest she was found in possession of bank cards relating to the accounts,” said the prosecutor. “She was at home waiting for a new kitchen to be delivered.”

Mr Little added that O’Brien was carrying out the fraud as she helped EquipMySchool apply for government funding loans during the pandemic.

The firm subsequently had to reduce its workforce from 21 to 11.

“Had this money have been present, they wouldn’t have had to take this action,” Mr Little said.

O’Brien continued to carry out numerous transactions along similar lines at the nursery between November 2021 and April 2022.

“Just £1,850 has been repaid [to the nursery],” Mr Little added.

The case was committed to Lincoln Crown Court for sentencing on a date to be fixed.

A pre-sentence report was ordered and O’Brien was granted unconditional bail.