East Lancs finance director stole £150k as firm laid off staff

Oswaldtwistle finance director stole £150k as firm laid off staff

Oswaldtwistle finance director stole £150k as firm laid off staff

First published in Hyndburn
Last updated
by , Court reporter

A ‘CALCULATED’ finance director stole around £150,000 from a sportswear firm while workers were losing their jobs, a court heard.

Father-of-three Christopher Harold Horsfield, 45, took the money over five years from Kooga Rugby and used it to subsidise his income and lifestyle.

He was unsuccessfully playing the stock market and using his employers' cash to bring his bank accounts and credit cards back into credit, Burnley Crown Court was told.

Kooga, meanwhile, a small company suffering from cash flow problems, was having to make workers redundant.

Horsfield, who had a four-bedroomed detached home in Orchard Drive, Oswaldtwistle, is now starting a six-and-a-half-year jail term.

After the case, neighbours on the quiet, new-build residential street, where houses sell for around £150,000, said they had not noticed him living an extravagant lifestyle.

One said: “He was just normal, that’s why it was a bit of a surprise.” Horsfield, who is not a qualified accountant, was caught after Cheshire-based Kooga was bought out by the JD Group for a nominal £1 in 2009.

An audit was later carried out and anomalies were found.

He evaded answering questions from bosses, telling them he was undergoing cancer treatment and that one of his children was critically ill.

He left JD Group on March 10, 2010 and nine days later, rang up the firm, stating he had done stupid things and needed to set the record straight.

Horsfield said he had been writing out Kooga company cheques in his own name and creating dummy invoices in the accounting computer system to balance the books.

He said he wanted to pay back what he had taken, but cancelled a further meeting and was arrested on August 18.

Horsfield, said to have used 'clever' means to hide the thefts in the books and accounts, claimed he was £40,000 in debt, but a judge slammed his actions as greed.

The defendant had earlier admitted seven counts of theft, three of removing criminal property and two charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Horsfield, who struck between March 2004 and December 2009, had no previous convictions. He faces a proceeds of crime hearing on September 26.

The hearing was told Horsfield, who has been on remand in Manchester's Forest Bank prison, had become the first mentor in business and IT studies there and was teaching people how not to do what he did.

Alexander Langhorn, prosecuting, said Horsfield abused his position of trust at Kooga.

The defendant had worked at Kooga as finance director from 2004 until 2010.

He was a director in name only, worked there for 10 years and, as a trusted worker, was promoted when the firm was taken over by JJB Sport Group in 2004.

He was qualified as an accounting technician. Mr Langhorn said in July 2009, the JD Group bought out Kooga, which had been experiencing difficult trading times since 2007.

When the figures failed to add up, Neil Greenhalgh, the financial controller at JD, investigated and it was found accounting files had been deleted from the computer system during the weekend of February 12 to 14, 2010.

Mr Langhorn said: "During the time Horsfield was stealing from Kooga, it was a small company suffering from cash flow problems which led to employees having to be made redundant."

The police investigation revealed that during the course of the thefts, the defendant was living well beyond his means.

Mr Langhorn said as the case neared trial, Horsfield produced emails to the prosecution, seeking to implicate others in the company of wrongdoing.

The prosecutor said the defendant had been the subject of a restraint order, limiting his use of bank accounts and access to funds.

Between January 2011 and February 2013, Horsfield put £188,271.40 into his mother's account in order to defeat the restraint order.

Mr Langhorn said: "It is not said that the money was sourced from crime, but from work he was undertaking. However, the money was used to continue to fund his lifestyle."

Ken Hind, defending, said Horsfield, who had married twice, was under financial pressure and had gone off the rails.  He was supporting two families.

The defendant suffered depression and became unwell.

He had now separated from his second wife.

Mr Hind said: "He's lost his good name. He will never be able to work in this industry again, or any form of accounting, because he will not be trusted by anybody. He realises effectively he has smashed his life into little pieces."

Sentencing, Judge Beverley Lunt said: "These were sophisticated thefts, with a sophisticated system of hiding them. Such calculated criminal activity, of course, must result in a substantial prison sentence."

A spokeswoman for JD said: “We are grateful to Greater Manchester Police for their diligent work in investigating and prosecuting this criminal activity.”

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