Sunderland mum spared jail over £17,000 fraud from her own employer

Dawn Nicholson was given a suspended sentence.
Dawn Nicholson was given a suspended sentence.

A business accounts manager who fleeced her firm out of more than £17,000 has walked free from court.

Dawn Nicholson told two customers at Northern Gas and Power to pay money into an account she had access to instead of the company's bank.

Newcastle Crown Court heard a total of £17,349 ended up transferred into Nicholson's own bank as a result of the scam.

The 34-year-old mum had been employed at the Gateshead-based business since 2015 to obtain competitive gas and electricity deals on behalf of clients.

Nicholson, of Southside Gardens, South Hylton, Sunderland, would also negotiate a settlement figure to get the customers out of their old utilities contracts.

Prosecutor Rachel Masters told the court Nicholson had cold-called two business customers and obtained utility deals on their behalf.

The court heard one customer needed to pay £12,547 to settle his old contracts and the other £4,802, which should have been paid into Northern Gas and Power for them to give the providers.

But Miss Masters said: "They were given details of a Halifax bank account and paid money in. That account was the account of her friend."

Miss Masters said the friend then innocently transferred the cash into Nicholson's account, believing it to be from bonuses.

The court heard Nicholson was collared when the pal's account was frozen by her bank due to the unusual transactions, and she was asked to prove where the cash had come from.

Miss Masters said: "The defendant had asked the friend if she could get money paid into her bank, to conceal it from her partner. The friend agreed to this.

"On the two occasions the defendant asked if she could get bonus payments paid in."

Miss Masters said an investigation was launched after the friend - who was by then being ignored by Nicholson - approached the firm to ask for proof of the "bonuses" to give to her bank.

Nicholson, who has previous convictions for dishonesty, pleaded guilty to two charges of fraud by false representation and one of concealing or converting criminal property.

She admitted carrying out the fraud because her personal finances were "out of control", and said her firm had been withholding bonuses she was genuinely entitled to, which she would have used to pay the money back.

Judge Jeremy Freedman sentenced her to 12 months' imprisonment, suspended for two years, with 100 hours' unpaid work.

The judge said in the "vast majority" of cases an immediate prison term would follow, but he was prepared to take an "exceptional course" in Nicholson's case.

Jamie Adams, defending, said Nicholson has a long history of mental health difficulties, has children to take care of, and has mounting debts.

Mr Adams said Nicholson was owed about £40,000 in bonuses when she took the cash, and had planned to pay it back.

He added: "Her instructions are she did tell her immediate employer, her boss, what she had done, and he said he would help her to sort it out because she was owed money, due to her from work."