A Wigan construction firm was left teetering on the brink of ruin after its finance manager systematically fleeced it of £186,000, a court heard.
The two brother directors running the business were left devastated by David Mills’s dishonesty, particularly as one of them was his best friend and had been best man at his wedding.
You sit in the dock with your head bowed in shame. It is bowed in embarrassment and your head is bowed in disbelief at the enormity of the you didJudge David Aubrey QC
Richard Darwin was also godfather to Mills’s daughter and had let him live in his home for weeks after his first marriage broke down.
The brothers employed 14 workers and two office staff, including Mills and after the theft came to light they had sleepless nights about how the building and groundworking company would survive.
Gambling addict Mills repeatedly wiped away tears during his sentencing hearing and jailing him for 32 months Judge David Aubrey, QC, said: “You sit in the dock with your head bowed in shame.
“It is bowed in embarrassment and your head is bowed in disbelief at the enormity of the you did.”
He said he had repaid Richard Darwin’s friendship “by systematically stealing from him and his brother and you weaved an intricate, dishonest web.”
Mills admitted stealing £186,815 between October 14 2013 and September 23 last year.
“It was almost day by day, drip by drip,” said Judge Aubrey. “The impact your dishonest dealings have had upon this company is almost immeasurable and incalculable.”
He pointed out that the case “illustrates the demons” caused by the acute gambling addiction he had had for many years. “As you now know the consequences of what you have done must now lead to prison.”
Frank Dillon, prosecuting, told Liverpool Crown Court that Mills, now of St Anthony’s Place, Blackpool, began working for Darwin Contractors Ltd of Bradley Lane, Standish, in 2010 on a part time basis. He became a full time employee as office/finance manager which involved him dealing with suppliers’ invoice. By 2012 his marriage had broken down and he re-married with Mr Darwin as his best man, said Mr Dillon.
But last year he was again having marital problems, turned to drink and began arriving late for work. His change in behaviour concerned the directors.
Last September he went to a music concert in Manchester with the other company director, Christoper Darwin, during which he hinted how easy it was to “hide things on the computer” and said he had a large sum of money in his bank account.
This information concerned the brothers and Mills was suspended from his job. Subsequent internal investigations revealed that he had been diverting funds meant to meet suppliers’ invoices into his own account.
When interviewed by police he admitted he had a gambling addiction. During his first marriage his wife insisted he went to Gamblers Anonymous which he did for more than eight years while working for her dad and did not gamble.
Their marriage broke up, by which time he was working for Darwin, and distressing access problems over their young daughter, led him back into gambling.
“He said he could not stop himself and hated himself for what he had done, though had not realised how large the sum was. He said he thought nothing of placing £1,000 on the outcome of a single football match.”
Mills added he had also spent money on cocaine and apologised to the victims.
In a victim impact statement Richard Darwin said they had been best friends for 13 years and he had always been there for him.
“When he was struggling he knew he could speak to me about anything which is why I find it difficult to understand him living a lie,” he stated.
Mr Darwin said he found it particularly “disgusting” that Mills had transferred £922 from the company to his bank account on Mr Darwin’s birthday and then gone out to celebrate with him. He had also transferred funds while sitting just 2m from him in the office.
In his statement he also told how they had been left paying tens of thousands of pounds in VAT because of the fictitious accounts.
Richard Archer, defending, said Mills had had a difficult childhood because of his mother being violent to him and his father and they left her when he was 15.
His childhood experiences had “blighted his life” and he had a gambling addiction which reared its head after his marriage broke up. It left him in debt and he started taking money to pay off his credit card debts hoping to repay the money he had stolen.
He has since been working to help raise charity funds for soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, said Mr Archer.