St Austell Brewery accounts worker stole £400k from firm

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Lesley FreestoneImage source, Police
Image caption,
Lesley Freestone was jailed for five years after admitting fraud

A retired accounts worker has been jailed for stealing more than £400,000 from St Austell Brewery through hundreds of fake transactions.

Lesley Freestone, 65, worked at the historic Cornwall-based firm for 42 years, and had access to the payments systems.

Her methods including duplicating invoices and processing payments into her own accounts.

She admitted fraud and was sentenced to five years at Truro Crown Court.

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

He added: "More importantly I know, as all Cornwall knows, how St Austell Brewery has positioned itself in the community and how this will impact everyone who works there".

Image source, Google
Image caption,
St Austell Brewery said the company was "shocked" by the crimes

The court heard how Freestone worked in the accounts department between 1974 and 2016 rising to the role of purchase ledger supervisor, and had "unfettered access to payments systems".

It was after her retirement that the brewery conducted a review of its systems, following its purchase of Bath Ales.

This identified hundreds of fraudulent payments diverted to Freestone's accounts.

'Reputations tarnished'

An impact statement 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.

The statement said: "The biggest impact is on the ethos of the company.

"It is a family business and despite its growth over the years it has kept a paternalistic approach. Her duplicitous approach has shocked the company from directors to the staff.

"Other members of staff may have their reputations tarnished due to their association with the brewery".

Freestone, from Par, was sentenced in December but reporting restrictions have now been removed as charges against a co-defendant have been dropped.

The total amount she stole was £444,329.16 between 2007 and 2016.

The court said it would deal with the financial matters at a later date.

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