Solihull cashier stole £1.7m from solicitors

Image caption,
Louise Martini spent the money at Harvey Nichols and Jimmy Choo

A cashier who stole £1.7m from her employers, funding a luxury lifestyle, has been jailed for seven years.

Louise Martini, 35, of Solihull, West Midlands, bought jewellery, went on expensive holidays and bought shares in a racehorse with the stolen funds.

Gloucester Crown Court heard she pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to a charge of theft and money laundering.

She had worked for her solicitor employers Williamson and Soden, in Solihull, for 20 years.

Martini, of Griffin Lane, who earned £24,000 per year at the time of her arrest, was responsible for managing petty cash, client bank accounts and expenses and had been given more and more responsibility throughout her time at the firm.

Prosecutor Peter Grieves-Smith said it was a fraud that lasted just under seven years.

Between April 2002 and her dismissal in February 2009 Ms Martini spent £11,000 on Chanel jewellery, more than £10,000 on Cartier jewellery and £9,500 at online store Net-a-Porter.

She also bought five cars, including a £56,000 Range Rover and went on trips to Las Vegas, Venice and Lake Como in Italy.

She bought the Crown Inn in Peopleton, Worcestershire and bought the leasehold to The Bull's Head Pub in Inkberrow.

"The spending just goes on and on, month after month, on a variety of credit cards," Mr Grieves-Smith said.

The court heard she would deceive partners at the firm about the cheques she gave them for signing. On one occasion she created a fictitious file using her father's name to purchase a property, and the court heard, was even able to deceive the firm's auditors.

No blame

Mr Grieves-Smith said no blame could be attributed to anyone at the firm who trusted her.

"The level of trust placed in her was so high that she was able to access the accounts and change them externally," he said.

While on holiday irregularities were discovered and an internal investigation uncovered what she had been doing.

She was immediately suspended, and then later sacked.

Mr Grieves-Smith said she did not accept that any money was missing when she spoke to her employers.

Fiona Warman, a consultant solicitor advocate at the firm, said she had considered Martini to be a friend.

Martini at first denied theft saying the partners had been giving her regular cash amounts, of between £200 and £1,000 per month, as a bonus.

Under pressure

She later suggested to police her then husband Richard Martini, 40, had put her under pressure to take the money.

Mr Martini was arrested in July last year and denied any knowledge of the events, saying he thought his wife earned up to £70,000 per year.

He was charged with money laundering but the charge was dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service.

In mitigation, Alan Landsbury, said Martini had been undergoing counselling to come to terms with her offending and had recently lost a baby with a new partner.

"She asks me to apologise on her behalf to her employers," he said.

"She knows she is going to prison for a considerable time and she is terrified at the prospect."

Sentencing her, Judge Jamie Tabor QC, said the partners had put complete trust in her and she had abused it.

"Over the next seven years you plundered that account to quite a remarkable degree, which required you to lie and forge," he said.

"You did this with calmness and a large degree of cunning," he said.

Charges of forgery were allowed to lie on file.

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