Billionaire Dame Stephanie Shirley’s PA stole £75,000 for holidays, dog exercise equipment and bras

A billionaire philanthropist’s personal assistant Dame stole £75,000 from him in a bank card fraud – to buy holidays, clothes, dog gear and bras, a court has heard.

Ljubica Firth’s two-year spree saw her make 229 separate purchases – worth a total of £5,074 – on Amazon.

It included women’s bras, sports equipment, clothing and ‘dog exercise equipment’, Oxford Crown Court heard.

The 61-year-old wife of Drayton bought a Virgin Atlantic holiday for £2,000 and also transferred over £66,000 to her PayPal account.

Ljubica Firth, 61, spent £2,099 on her boss’ bank card on a Virgin Atlantic flight to the US on what she described as the ‘vacation of a lifetime’. Above, Firth seen in court

Dame Stephanie Shirley (above), 88, had £75,000 robbed by her personal assistant, Ljubica Firth, 61.

Dame Stephanie Shirley (above), 88, had £75,000 robbed by her personal assistant, Ljubica Firth, 61.

The money belonged to his patron, Dame Stephanie Shirley, 88, an entrepreneur, philanthropist and information technology pioneer.

She built a £2billion tech empire in the 1960s using an all-female staff who had left the workforce after marrying and having children.

Dame Stephanie is said to have floated the idea of ​​women returning to work after a career break.

Firth stole thousands of pounds using his employer’s Barclaycard, the court heard.

His frenzy was discovered in July 2019 when Dame Stephanie’s Barclaycard company was used to buy a computer printer.

It was delivered to the house in Firth in Oxfordshire.

At the time, Firth apologized to Dame Stephanie claiming she had done so by mistake and wrote a check to cover the printer for £351.

The accountant for Dame Stephanie’s charity, the Shirley Foundation, reviewed Barclaycard transactions, revealing hundreds of unauthorized payments.

Between August 2017 and July 2019, Firth made 141 transfers to his own PayPal account totaling £66,192.

She used the card to spend £5,074 on Amazon purchases, bought a £526 Ryanair flight to Italy in September 2018 and spent £2,099 on a Virgin Atlantic flight to the US for what she described as the “vacation of a lifetime” in August. 2019.

Firth spent £522 on cycling clothing and helmets from online retailer Wiggle and bought clothes worth £583 from fashion website Lux Fix.

The total value of the fraud was just under £75,000.

Dame Stephanie built a £2billion tech empire in the 1960s using an all-female staff who had left the workforce after getting married and having children

Dame Stephanie built a £2billion tech empire in the 1960s using an all-female staff who had left the workforce after getting married and having children

Dame Stephanie's AP admitted that she had abused her trust.  Above, Dame Stephanie signs a copy of her memoir, Let It Go: My Extraordinary Story - From Refugee to Entrepreneur to Philanthropist, at the Henley Literary Festival

Dame Stephanie’s AP admitted that she had abused her trust. Above, Dame Stephanie signs a copy of her memoir, Let It Go: My Extraordinary Story – From Refugee to Entrepreneur to Philanthropist, at the Henley Literary Festival

PA, who started working for Dame Stephanie in 2015 and received an annual salary of £35,000, was dismissed for gross misconduct in August 2019.

She later sent a letter to the contractor acknowledging she had abused his trust, but suggested she had exposed a “flaw” in the payment system.

She wrote that she was not a bad person and hoped Dame Stephanie and her husband could forgive her before wishing the couple “the best of health”, prosecutor Robert Lindsey said.

Thames Valley Police raided her home later in 2019, discovering the purchased items.

After being questioned by police, Firth wrote a letter to her former employer in October 2019 again apologizing.

She asked Dame Stephanie to consider dropping the criminal charges in favor of a civil case.

The case was not dropped and she was questioned again in 2020, at which time she again did not respond with any comments to the questions posed to her.

In a personal statement read in court, Dame Stephanie said of the fraud of her former employee “Lou Lou”: “It was because she was so trustworthy that the shock was so great.”

She said her husband, Derek, 95, suffered from a “heart irregularity” the day after they learned of the fraud.

Mitigating, Nawaz Khan told the court that his client struggled with spiraling debts after her relationship broke down and after her pension company pulled out with her nest egg.

Despite the intervention of a counseling body, his debts had doubled from £10,000 to £21,000.

She had originally taken the money with the intention of paying it back, the court heard.

The mum-of-two was “full of regret and contrition”. “Through me she apologizes to Dame Stephanie and the court,” Mr Khan said.

“She is deeply sorry for her actions and the impact of these [offences] had on Dame Stephanie and her family.

Firth wrote two letters to her former boss, Dame Stephanie, (above) after she was fired for gross misconduct  She asked for forgiveness and for Dame Stephanie to pursue a civil case, not a criminal one

Firth wrote two letters to her former boss, Dame Stephanie, (above) after she was fired for gross misconduct She asked for forgiveness and for Dame Stephanie to pursue a civil case, not a criminal one

Firth, of Abingdon Road, Drayton, pleaded guilty to six counts of fraud by false representation at the Oxford Crown Court hearing (above)  File Picture

Firth, of Abingdon Road, Drayton, pleaded guilty to six counts of fraud by false representation at the Oxford Crown Court hearing (above) File Picture

Firth, of Abingdon Road, Drayton, pleaded guilty to six counts of fraud by false representation.

Recorder player Michael Roques handed down a two-year prison sentence suspended for two years.

“It’s a knife edge decision and the fact that your daughter is 17 and not 18 is the reason for that,” he said.

Turning to the two letters the defendant wrote to Dame Stephanie, the judge said: “In the first letter you had the decency to apologise, but then the temerity to say that if nothing else your actions will had revealed a flaw in their current system, a flaw that would not have needed to be rectified without someone grossly abusing the trust that had been placed in them.

“The second letter you wrote amounts in my view to a blatant attempt to emotionally blackmail Dame Stephanie into not pursuing this allegation, telling her that you were arrested on your daughter’s 15th birthday, what to continue this action [would] would render you homeless and your daughter would be taken into care, falsely stating that you were not a criminal.

“You blame your financial situation on your clouded judgment and the debt you were in.

“But from what I can see the money you stole in this case was spent on vacations, clothes and sports equipment. From what I can see, none of this was used to put food on your table.

Firth must complete up to 30 days of rehab activity, 200 hours of unpaid work and abide by a six-month curfew.

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