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Last Updated: Friday, 26 October 2007, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
Company director jailed for theft
Sharon Bridgewater
Sharon Bridgewater left a six-year trail of theft

A director who presided over redundancies as she swindled money from a company to support a lavish lifestyle has been jailed for five years.

Sharon Bridgewater, 36, of Basingstoke, Hampshire, bought high-speed cars for her boyfriend and took exotic holidays with the money, the court was told.

She pleaded guilty to 16 counts of theft at Southwark Crown Court, London.

Her boyfriend, Robert Sangster, 34, of Braintree, Essex, received a nine month jail term suspended for 18 months.

Convicted fraudster

He was found guilty of perverting the course of justice by trying to conceal the existence of two Porches and the Ferrari bought with the proceeds of Bridgewater's dishonesty.

The court heard Bridgewater's first "betrayal of trust" was in 1996 when, as accounts manager at Dyna-Five, a computer hardware firm in Epsom, Surrey, she disguised thefts totalling 25,000 as payments to the HM Revenue and Customs and various suppliers.

She was exposed when her boss checked the company bank account.

She eventually pleaded guilty to eight false accounting offences and was sentenced to 150 hours community service.

Shortly afterwards, having concealed the fact she was a convicted fraudster, she was appointed as financial director at the Bloomsbury-based marketing firm Hicklin Slade & Partners in the west end of London.

Swindled millions

Between August 1999 and May 2005, Bridgewater, described by her barrister as a "female Walter Mitty" - after the American fictional character with a vivid fantasy life - secretly swindled millions from the firm.

Dinner at top restaurants, including the Mandarin Oriental and Gordon Ramsay's at Claridges, cost up to 2,200, with 500 bottles of wine "drunk like water" the court heard.

Even when the company ordered a round of redundancies to cope with their unexplained cash flow problems, she continued to squeeze money out of the account, the court was told.

The jury heard that after stealing 2 million from Hicklin Slade & Patners, she resigned and got another job.

Within weeks she set up an internet banking facility into which she channelled 55,000 from the small west end radio recording company Universal Sound Principles.

Her crimes were discovered when Hicklin Slade & Partners asked auditors to probe the company's "parlous financial state".

The court was told that even when confronted by her dishonesty, she did her best to lie her way out of trouble, leading to the arrest of one of her colleagues.

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