A MUM-of-three, who had racked up a massive 300 convictions for theft, has been jailed after stealing £28,500 from her bosses while illegally claiming £12,700 in benefits.
Preston Crown Court heard Danielle Henwood appeared to be a “nice, respectable woman” looking for work to support her family when her employers took her on.
But in reality, the 40-year-old took St Annes firms Gerrards Auction Rooms and addiction treatment centre Pierpoint “for a ride” – writing out cheques worth thousands of pounds to herself while being responsible for their accounts.
Henwood, of Kenilworth Road, St Annes, was appearing for sentencing after admitting two allegations of benefit fraud, one count of theft and 25 counts of fraud.
She had served six months in prison years before getting a job as a book-keeper for Gerrards Auction Rooms on St George’s Road in August 2008.
She stole 24 blank cheques, which had already been signed by the partners, and fleeced the firm of £17,000 over a period of five months from May 2009.
It was only when one of Gerrards’ partners noticed the auction house was struggling financially they began to suspect Henwood.
Kevin Slack, prosecuting, said: “The business (Gerrards) issued cheques after each auction. The partners would frequently sign blank cheques. During the course of her employment, she stole 24 cheques and made payments to herself.
“She would take the books and work on them from home.
“One of the partners discovered the auction house appeared to be struggling financially. She couldn’t understand why.”
In October 2008, after leaving Gerrards, Henwood began work as a part-time accounts manager for Pierpoint on Clifton Drive North.
She had access to the company cheque book and was an authorised signatory but “abused that position” and stole £11,500 throughout 2009.
Part of her motivation was “revenge” after a relationship broke down, the court heard.
All the while – over a period of 18 months – she was also illegally claiming income support and council tax benefits.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) began an investigation into her claims in the autumn of 2009 and in December 2010 she was arrested in connection with stealing from her employers.
The court was told Henwood first got into trouble for stealing in 1988 when she raided her employer.
Bunty Batra, defending, admitted his client had history for theft but said she began stealing again after being left with £40,000 of debt when her marriage broke down and had used the cash to pay her mortgage and living costs – but also indulged in a holiday to America
He added: “She has got relevant previous convictions. These convictions were 17 years ago when she was extremely young.
“In 1988, that was at a time when she was having difficulty at home and she was stealing money to run away from home.
“Another case was taking property by deception where there were 269 offences. After the offence in 1995, she turned her life around.
“But problems began in 2005. Her husband left the country and she was raising three children. Her troubles exacerbated when her father suffered a second heart attack. In October 2008 her sister died and one of her children began living with the defendant. It was a culmination of all these factors that led her back into criminality.”
Jailing her for 19 and a half months, Judge Mr Justice Butterfield, told Henwood she clearly had not learnt her lesson.
He added: “You committed nearly 300 offences in 1991 and the court treated you with leniency with a community order service. In 1995 you stole from your employer and you were sent to prison for six months. The court, no doubt, thought that would teach you a lesson. You have committed a gross breach of trust.”
Pat Cook, a partner at Gerrards Auction Rooms, warned employers to thoroughly check prospective workers before taking them on.
She said: “We are family run and we treat everyone as family. We put our trust in Danielle. She was so nice and jolly and looked respectable. It was all a disguise.
“She came in a tatty old car when she started working with us and came out in a posh 4x4. She ripped us off, she took us all for a ride.
“It was such as shock. It could happen to anyone, people need to be aware of who they are taking on.
“We are trying to get some of our money back. It takes a lot to pick up again but we are still very busy and on the up. We have good, trustworthy staff.”
Bosses at Pierpoint said they did not wish to comment on the case.
Det Con Bob Higham, from St Annes CID, added: “People put their trust in Henwood and she abused that position by stealing thousands of pounds. The sentence shows the gravity of the case and the seriousness of the offence.”