Company secretary escapes jail after stealing £10,000 from aviation firm

AN OFFICE manager plundered the accounts of a Welsh aviation business because she could not bear to tell her husband she had run up thousands of pounds of debts.

Amanda Hallett stole so much that her thefts helped drive the historic aircraft firm into liquidation.

She felt she was underpaid after not receiving a rise when she was promoted to company secretary and fiddled the books to take what she thought she was worth.

Hallett worked for Hunter Flying, which helped enthusiasts preserve historic warplanes including Hawker Hunters. It had a workforce of 11 at St Athan and Exeter.

The company was run by John and Nadine Sparks who were friends of Hallett and her husband, who worked on the aircraft which they maintained, Exeter Crown Court was told.

She betrayed their trust by stealing around £10,000 which she used to hide debts and mortgage arrears from her husband.

Hallett escaped jail after a judge heard how her marriage has broken up and she is now the sole carer for the couple's eight-year-old daughter.

Hallett, aged 41, of Crownhill Park, Torquay, admitted three counts of fraud and was jailed for 16 months, suspended for two years and ordered to do 240 hours' unpaid community work.

Judge Wassall said: "The prosecution say the effect on the company was that it went out of business. You dispute that and say it was not purely your fraud that did that, but you accept it must have played a part.

"I accept that a company would be unlikely to have gone into administration over the loss of £10,000 and there were other issues and the move to Wales.

"Mr and Mrs Sparks not only trusted you but you accepted their friendship and that makes matters a good deal worse.

"You were managing your family's finances and struggling to pay your mortgage and your husband was not party to this. I accept it put a great deal of pressure on you to ensure he did not find out about the mounting debts.

"You began to make these fraudulent transactions. I don’t know if it was because you thought you were doing two jobs and in your mind the amount you were taking was a second wage."

Miss Bathsheba Cassel, prosecuting, said Hallett worked for Hunter Flying from 2008 to 2012 and left because they relocated to St Athan.

The family which ran the firm were alerted to deficiencies by their accountants and it was found she had been channeling money to herself through cheques, debit card transactions and cashpoint withdrawals.

The firm estimated its losses at £13,454.87 but she put the amount she stole at £10,000. For much of the time she was company secretary, with a legal duty to safeguard its interests.

She used company money to pay council tax and mortgage arrears and fend off debt management companies and also used it to buy a Nintendo games console.

Miss Cassel said: "The Sparks family have been devastated and struggling financially. Their livelihood has been lost. When interviewed Hallett expressed remorse and said she was trying to keep a roof over her family’s head."

Miss Kelly Scrivener, defending, said her client felt so guilty about what she was doing that she had not paid herself her £1,000 salary for two months to make up for the money she had taken.

She said at the time she had serious financial problems which she was hiding from her husband and that the marriage has now broken up.

She said: "She was not motivated by revenge of greed. She was driven by the particular financial circumstances in which she found herself."

Hunter Flying was based at Exeter Airport before moving to St Athan. It has since been relaunched by Mr and Mrs Sparks as Horizon Aircraft Services.

It specialises in restoring and historic warplanes, including Hawker Hunter jets but also provides maintenance services from hangars at the Ministry of Defence-run base at St Athan.

It has operated since 1999 and supports enthusiasts who own restored aircraft including Jet Provosts, Strikemasters and Russian-built Yaks.

Its website also offers flight training for pilots who need to qualify to fly historic aircraft, which requires specialist training.

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