Accounts manager jailed for swindling food supplier out of £560,000

·3-min read
Asha Patel was sentenced at Wood Green Crown Court (PA Archive)
Asha Patel was sentenced at Wood Green Crown Court (PA Archive)

A chartered accountant who stole almost £560,000 from the company which makes HP Sauce has been jailed for two-and-a-half years.

Asha Patel, 42, abused her position at Westmill Foods to pay invoices into her own bank account, using the money to prop up her own ailing food business.

The mother-of-three was caught out after she had left the company, when a supplier complained about not being paid.

In the wake of the discovery of the fraud, one of Patel’s co-workers who had been unwittingly used to conceal the scam lost her job and faced police investigation, Wood Green crown court heard.

Judge John Dodd QC sentenced Patel to two-and-a-half years in prison, telling her: “Over a two-year period, you systematically cheated your employer by stealing some £560,000.

“You used it to support your own business, one that has since failed, and you did so in my judgment cynically and in a determined manner.”

The judge added: “The most likely explanation why you, a woman of good character with many advantages, did what you did was a simple one: greed.”

Westmill Foods, which is part of Associated British Foods plc, counts Lea & Perrins sauce, Amoy noodles, and Lotus biscuits among its brands.

Patel, an accountancy graduate, joined the company in 2011 and stole a total of £559,822 between 2017 and her departure for poor performance in 2019.

She admitted 16 counts of fraud by abuse of position and blamed her offending on a deepening “spiral” of financial woes at her own independent business.

Westmill has already taken civil action to recover nearly £800,000 from Patel in stolen funds, interest, and costs.

Prosecutor Sahil Sinha said Patel, an accounts manager, was in charge of settling invoices from suppliers and repeatedly inserted her own bank account details to siphon off the funds.

He said Patel was offered a settlement to leave the company in May 2019 but chose to work her full three-month notice period when she made the final five fraudulent payments to herself, totalling more than £300,000.

“It may be it was a very calculated and deliberate decision to work her notice period to fraudulently obtain more funds,” said the prosecutor.

Mr Sinha said Patel made the final fraudulent payment after leaving the job when she offered to help her replacement – a relative - to understand the payment system.

“Other employees were involved by this defendant, not knowingly, but used to submit documentation,” said Mr Sinha. “In one case a colleague lost their job and was subjected to a police investigation and interview.”

The court heard almost all of the stolen money was channelled into Patel’s own struggling food distribution company, Yuwi Ltd.

She said she felt under pressure from his business partner to continue to bankroll the fledgling firm and was “unable to control the spiraling situation she found herself in”.

The judge reduced the prison sentence imposed on Patel, of Southgate, north London, after hearing she is the primary carer for her children and has recently been diagnosed with diabetes.

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