A BOOKKEEPER stole more than £80,000 from her own family’s business in order to fund her gambling addiction.

Joanne Clarke took the ‘crippling’ sum from Fearnhead-based Wilkinson Environmental Services Ltd’s bank account in a swindle which lasted more than a year.

But the 45-year-old was spared prison at Liverpool Crown Court today, Tuesday.

The court heard that the defendant was employed part-time by her brother-in-law’s company from the point of its inception in April 2016.

In June the following year, Clarke’s dad – who was also a member of staff – discovered that he was unable to pay workers their wages as the firm’s bank account had been emptied.

Upon further investigation, it was revealed that 170 transactions had been made to the mum-of-four’s account over the previous 14 months.

She then sent the business owner a text reading: “It’s me who has taken the money.

“I have a gambling addiction and I need help.

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“Can you please send the police to have me arrested and help to put things right?”

In total, Clarke – who was paid £50 per week for her services – stole £83,030 from the company, having lost £174,000 after turning to gambling in the hope that she would be able to pay off debts.

A number of staff had to have their hours and wages reduced as a result of the impact upon the business.

The owner meanwhile was left suffering from stress and depression.


In a statement read out to the court, he said: "The amount of money stolen still shocks me, and for it to have been committed by a trusted family member upsets me.

"There has been a significant knock-on effect on the business as a whole.

"The amount taken is so large that it almost crippled the business.

"Most distressingly, staff had to make sacrifices when they were totally innocent in this."


Clarke, from Chorley, has since paid back around £2,000 of her ill-gotten gains.

Defence barrister Scott Phillips told the court: “She knows what she has done is wrong.

“If she could have paid more back, she would have done.

“She’s a mum of four and she’s supposed to be a role model, but she has let her family down as well as employees of the business.”

Clarke admitted theft by employee during an earlier hearing and was handed a 16-month imprisonment suspended for two years after delays in the police investigation led to the case taking more than four years to come to court.

Sentencing, Recorder David Knifton said: “The sole purpose of your obtaining of that money was entirely to find your gambling addiction – this was a shameful offence involving a gross breach of trust upon a member of your family.

“This was not a victimless crime and it was committed over a sustained period.

“Your conduct had significant effects on a small family business which was almost crippled as a result of these losses.

“No doubt numerous members of staff were utterly shocked and suffered significant financial hardship.

“I accept that you have been candid and contrite, and you have demonstrated remorse.

“Perhaps more importantly, you have demonstrated steps to try and address your offending behaviour by seeking treatment for your gambling addiction and have taken steps to repay some of the money.

“Through no fault of yours, this matter has been hanging over your head now for approximately four years.

“I have no hesitation that this offence is so serious that neither a fine nor a community is justified.

“It merits a term of imprisonment, the issue is whether I can suspend it.

“I have thought about that long and hard, but ultimately I have reached the conclusion that you present no danger to the public and there seems to be a realistic prospect of rehabilitation.”

Clarke, who has no previous convictions, was also told to complete 200 hours of unpaid work and handed a rehabilitation activity requirement of up to 20 days.

Recorder Knifton added: “You may consider yourself extremely fortunate with the sentence I have imposed today.

“If you appear in court again, you will not be so fortunate.”