By Michael MacLeod
A FORMER Shell garage boss who stole £20,000 from her tills then gambled it all away in a bid to pay off her debts was sentenced to 18-months in jail today (Wed).
Irene Pow, 45, from Newtongrange, Midlothian, wept in the dock as her defence agent told that jail meant she would no longer be able to care for her 49-year-old husband who is terminally ill.
But Sheriff Nigel Morrison said her crime was of such seriousness that he had to send her down.
The court heard how her scam began when one of the garages she was trusted to managed was closed for refurbishment.
She took advantage by fiddling the books and stealing three days-worth of takings – even though she was said to have gotten on so well with the garage’s franchise manager, Alistair Campbell, that he had already loaned her money to help her cancel debts.
But Mr Campbell noticed discrepancies in the balance sheets at the filling station in Newtongrange, Midlothian, and confronted Pow.
She confessed to taking the cash behind his back and was suspended from Shell immediately. Later she pleaded guilty to embezzlement at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.
Sending her to prison, Sheriff Nigel Morrison admitted it was “a very sad day,” having heard Pow was also a full-time carer for her terminally ill 49 year-old husband.
Tears ran down Pow’s face as she was led to the cells, while relatives cried out her name and had to be restrained by a police officer.
Her financial nightmare stemmed from a £25,000 bank loan that she was trying to pay back at £400 per-month.
In what her lawyer described as “a desperate attempt” to escape spiralling debt, she began to help herself to cash from her own workplace – a garage run as a franchise by Anastar Ltd.
Fiscal depute Gerard Drugan said previously: “The garage was undergoing refurbishment in February 2008.
“At the end of May, the franchise owner Alistair Campbell noticed there were discrepancies on the balance sheet.
“He asked Miss Pow about this and she admitted she had gambled the money in an effort to repay the money she had borrowed.
“She was suspended immediately.”
Police seized the company’s financial documents and questioned Pow over the firm’s dodgy bank balance.
She told them: “There’s no money there anymore.”
Defence agent Leanne McQuillan said Pow was even willing to use her carer’s allowance to pay back the money she took.
She said: “This is a lady who throughout her life has been totally law-abiding and this offence was entirely out of character.
“She is so ashamed of her behaviour. Matters seem to have got seriously out of control and in a desperate attempt to salvage them she acted as described.
“She is most sorry as she got on so well with the franchise holder and this was a serious breach of his trust.
“She has debts with a number of banks over and above the loan which her employer gave her.
“Miss Pow is now a full-time carer for her husband, who has been diagnosed with a progressive disease with no cure.
“If she is sent to custody he would end up in some sort of residential home and she would be desperately worried about him.
“She is genuinely terrified of going to prison.”
Sheriff Nigel Morrison told her: “Taking £20,000 from your employer is very serious.
“This is a very sad day, having heard your personal circumstances and the fact you are a first offender.
“But I am afraid it has to be a custodial sentence.”