Thief who stole from employers ‘to meet debts’ must pay back £13.5k

Michelle Armstrong, 48, of Chestnut Way, Seaham, has admitted theft of �13,450 from Dowen Surveyors & Estate Agents
Michelle Armstrong, 48, of Chestnut Way, Seaham, has admitted theft of �13,450 from Dowen Surveyors & Estate Agents
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A WOMAN who claimed she stole from her estate agent employer to meet debts has assets of more than £36,500, a court heard.

Michelle Armstrong must now repay £13,450 she took from Dennis Dowen.

In May, Armstrong was given a suspended prison sentence at Durham Crown Court, which heard she stole money while working for Dowen’s Seaham office.

Her job was to collect rent from tenants, but instead of paying it into the company account, she kept some of it.

Prosecutor Paul Abrahams said suspicion first fell on Armstrong in 2009 after £1,315 went missing.

At the time, she managed to persuade Mr Dowen it may have been a bank error.

When £7,000 went missing, she claimed the money was in her parked car when it had been broken into.

Police checked CCTV footage of the area and found no theft had taken place.

Armstrong, 49, of Chesnut Way, Seaham, denied theft, but changed her plea to guilty on the morning her trial was due to start.

When she was sentenced, it was said on her behalf her finances were in a parlous state, and she had stolen “out of need, not greed”.

Durham Police launched an investigation to find out if Armstrong had any assets which could be seized as the proceeds of crime.

The court heard earlier this week she has assets of £36,597.

Prosecutor John Gillette said: “It has been agreed between the two parties the benefit from crime in this case was £13,450.

“We are therefore asking the court to make a compensation order in this sum in favour of Dennis Dowen.”

The Recorder, Ms Helen Proops, made the order and told Armstrong she must pay in six months or face going to prison for a year.