Married couple sentenced after £150k stolen from Welsh chef Stephen Terry
A married couple enjoyed family holidays abroad with money stolen from the restaurant of celebrity chef Stephen Terry, a court has heard.
Nicola Nightingale, 48, and Simon Nightingale, 50, fleeced the Great British Menu chef of £150,000 while working at his well-known restaurant The Hardwick, in Abergavenny.
Mr Terry, who trained under Marco Pierre White and was best man at Gordon Ramsay’s wedding, opened the award-winning gastropub in 2005 and it has since become known as one of the best restaurants in the country.
The couple were given two-year suspended sentences at Cardiff Crown Court on Monday.
During the hearing it was heard that Mrs Nightingale, who Mr Terry employed as his office administrator between February 2018 and March 2020, had alcoholism and mental health problems and used the money to fund her spending addiction.
Over a two-year period, the mother-of-four siphoned almost £47,000 into her husband’s bank account, made direct payments of more than £50,000 to her account, inflated her wages by £6,000 and made additional payments to herself disguised as paid wages of £47,000.
The total stolen from the restaurant was £150,234.63.
It was also discovered that two loans for £40,000 each had been taken out in Mr Terry’s name without his permission.
Prosecutor Tom Roberts said: “Nicola Nightingale began working there [The Hardwick] on February 13 2018 and was responsible for managing the business’s accounts and finances.
“In March of 2020, as the Covid lockdown came into effect, Mr Terry became suspicious of her behaviour.
“He and his wife contacted HSBC and found there were payments made directly to Mrs Nightingale outside the normal payment structure amounting at that stage to about £27,000.”
Mr Roberts said Mr Terry tried to contact both Mrs and Mr Nightingale to get the login details for their business accounts but they did not respond.
The following day Mrs Nightingale resigned via email and Mr Terry contacted Gwent Police, who began an investigation.
“She left the restaurant owing suppliers £70,000 and £6,000 in business rates,” Mr Roberts continued.
“She also left the company owing £110,000 in PAYE and VAT, and she left the pension fund with a £10,000 shortfall.
“She’d given the impression that the business was running smoothly but she had in fact run it into significant debt by extracting money from it for herself.”
During Mr Nightingale’s trial in February this year it was disclosed that part of the money had been spent on a number of foreign holidays.
In a victim impact statement written in June 2020 and read to the court, Mr Terry said the fraud was “potentially devastating” to his business.
“Over the past 15 years I’ve worked extremely hard to build a successful business in the heartland and throughout this time I’ve worked well with suppliers and built strong working relationships.
“The impact of being defrauded of such a significant amount of money and having large outstanding payments to my suppliers is potentially devastating. There’s no doubt damage to my reputation and working relationships.
“Had it not been for the unprecedented pandemic, that is Covid-19, I’m not certain that I would have been aware of the fraud. And I believe that the business would not have survived this financial loss.”
Mr Terry said he had since had to take out loans to pay back his suppliers and employees.
Susan Ferrier, defending Mrs Nightingale, said her client had an “extreme problem with alcoholism and mental health” and that those problems, with previous marriage troubles and losing her youngest brother, caused her to become addicted to buying things as a means of coping.
Ms Ferrier said Mrs Nightingale was “shocked” at and “bitterly regretted” the amount she had stolen, which accumulated over time, and is “haunted” by the impact of her actions on others.
She said Mrs Nightingale, now a grandmother, was a low risk of reoffending and raised concerns about how she would cope in prison given her “fragile” state.
The court heard Mrs Nightingale had recently tried twice to take her own life.
Mr Nightingale’s defence, led by Martin Taylor, said the defendant accepted his “negligence” and had “massive regret for allowing this situation to have arisen”.
Mr Taylor said Mr Nightingale was left having to “carry the family”, including caring for their two youngest children, aged 10 and 12, due to his wife’s difficulties.
Recorder Judge Barry Clarke sentenced Mrs Nightingale, who pleaded guilty to fraud, and Mr Nightingale, who was convicted of possession of criminal property after a trial, to a two-year suspended sentence and ordered both to complete 100 hours of unpaid work.
Judge Clarke said sending both defendants to prison would have had a “lasting, negative impact on them [the children] and upon their development”.
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How can the owner not have missed £150,000 over two years? The place must have been making huge money not to miss over £6,000 a month or £1,500 a week!!