A couple who swindled £150,000 from the accounts of a luxury restaurant run by Gordon Ramsay’s best man have been ordered to pay back just £1.
Mother-of-five Nicola Nightingale, 48, fleeced chef Stephen Terry, who appeared on TV series the Great British Menu chef, while working as an administrator at his restaurant, The Hardwick, in Abergavenny, Monmouthshire.
With the money, she and husband Simon, 51, jetted off on a string of trips abroad to Eurodisney, Disney World Florida, France and anniversary stays in Morocco.
The pair received two-year suspended prison terms and 100 hours’ community service at Cardiff Crown Court in April.
Mr Terry said his restaurant survived ‘by the skin of its teeth’ after the Nightingales’ crimes and branded the sentences a ‘joke’.
Mother-of-five Nicola Nightingale, 48, (left) walking hand-in-hand with Simon Nightingale (right) outside Cardiff Crown Court
Celebrity chef Stephen Terry outside Cardiff Crown Court. He employed Mrs Nightingale as a financial administrator at his restaurant The Hardwick in Abergavenny
Nicola Nightingale, 48, and Simon Nightingale, 50, pictured at Disney World
Yesterday, a Proceeds of Crime hearing at Cardiff Crown Court was told Mrs Nightingale stole £150,000 from the restaurant while transferring £46,000 into the account of her husband.
The alarm was raised when suspicious Mr Terry saw money was missing and discovered two £40,000 loans had been taken out in his name along with a £10,000 shortfall in the pension pot.
Prosecutor Tom Roberts said Mrs Nightingale ‘generated fake invoices from fictitious suppliers’ after she was employed at the country inn.
The court heard she began working at the restaurant in February 2018 before she started to pay herself inflated wages and create bogus invoices.
Mr Roberts said: ‘She gave the impression that the business was running smoothly but she had in fact run it into significant debt.”
The total money stolen from the restaurant in Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, was £150,234.63 between February 2018 and February 2020.
Mrs Nightingale, of Deal, Kent, pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position, while her husband was found guilty of acquiring criminal property after a trial.
The Proceeds of Crime hearing was told a “thorough” examination of the couple’s finances revealed no releasable assets.
Gordon Ramsay with TV chef Stephen Terry (right), who was fleeced out of £150,000
Nicola and Simon Nightingale outside Cardiff Crown Court. The pair both received suspended sentences
Judge Shomon Khan handed out nominal £1 confiscation orders to be made for Mr and Mrs Nightingale.
He said: ‘There has been a lot of interest in his case but there has been a thorough investigation and that’s where we are in terms of the recoverable amount and this is as far as the courts can take it.’
Speaking after their sentencing, Mr Terry said: ‘What kind of message does that sent out? It’s a joke, an absolute joke.
‘I am disappointed there was no custodial sentence for what they have put myself through. For someone to come and do that, I think she practically got away with it.
‘They had holidays we could have only dreamed of and all of a sudden you find out you’re paying for it. For them to result in getting a suspended sentence is a travesty.
‘This should be a lesson for all people not to trust, do your research, get references and be aware of how your business is being run. We trusted her and, unfortunately, she didn’t fulfil her job title.
‘Get involved in your business because I am sure it’s going on as we speak and it’s an absolute killer. We have managed to survive by the skin of our teeth but we’re still repaying debt. We’re good at what we do and have managed to work through that.’
At the sentencing hearing, the judge took into account the ‘lasting negative impact’ a jail term would have on the Nightingales’ children.
The Hardwick in Abergavenny, Wales – owned by celebrated chef Stephen Terry – is one of the country’s best restaurants
Simon Nightingale was found guilty of swindling a celebrity chef out of £150,000 from the restaurant where his wife worked and using the money to go on luxury holidays
Recorder Judge Barry Clarke said sending both defendants to prison would have had a ‘lasting, negative impact on them [the children] and upon their development’.
But Mr Terry said: ‘It says white collar crime pays – just make sure you’ve got kids.
‘We heard what the impact of custody might have been on their children but what about our family?’
Mr Terry and his wife Joanna Terry said an equal amount of consideration had not been paid to their family.
Mrs Terry said: ‘The court has not put into anything about our what our children have gone through and what they continue to go through and that’s wrong.’
Mr Terry, who trained under Marco Pierre White, opened his award-winning gastropub in 2005 and it has become known as one of the best restaurants in the country.
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, the court heard.
Giving evidence at Nightingale’s husband’s trial in February, Mr Terry previously said: ‘I think it took Nicola about four weeks to start taking money from us from when she started. She didn’t hang about.’
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.
Stephen Terry (pictured) who was Gordon Ramsay’s best man, was fleeced out of £150,000
‘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.’
Mr Nightingale claimed he believed the cash was his wife’s wages along with money for shifts he had carried out at the restaurant.
He told a jury: ‘There was no need for me to challenge her because it was her wages going into my account and my extracurricular wages going into my account.’
The court heard the couple went on multiple trips while also making payments to debt management company Lowell Portfolio Ltd to pay off store cards.
The couple’s daughter Jasmine, 22, claimed her mother had ‘complete control’ of the finances while they jetted off abroad.
In a victim impact statement, Mr Terry said: ‘This has caused significant reputational damage and is very hard to accept as we built this business from scratch and worked very hard to get to where we are now.’
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.
The court heard Mr Nightingale was on a £55,000-a-year salary as a group head chef for Q Hotels at the time of the crimes.
At the sentencing hearing, 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, had a low risk of reoffending and raised concerns about how she would cope in prison given her ‘fragile’ state.
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.
Millie Davies of the CPS said: ‘The CPS presented evidence showing there had been 55 transactions to Simon Nightingale’s account.
‘Nicola Nightingale took advantage of her position of trust within the business and used the opportunity for her own gain.’