Joyce Baker, 61, pictured outside St Albans Crown Court yesterday, stole more than £2million to fund her gambling addiction
The trusted manager of a lighting company almost brought it to its knees by stealing more than £2million to fund her secret gambling addiction.
Joyce Baker, 61, of Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, was the £45,000-a-year financial controller for the firm which had supplied the lighting for Roman Abramovich’s superyacht Eclipse.
But she stole huge amounts of cash to fund online gambling, VIP visits to casinos, holidays and cruises – and has now been jailed for five years and ten months at St Albans Crown Court.
Within six weeks of starting at The Light Corporation in Berkhamsted, she began regularly stealing money from bosses.
As the steady drain of money began to be felt, mystified bosses were faced with the heartbreaking task of making loyal staff redundant or letting them go.
And it was Glasgow-born Baker who, in her management role, decided who was for the axe. But yesterday, her double life of lies and deceit was laid bare when she appeared in court to be sentenced after pleading guilty to the £2.1million fraud.
The firm’s owner David Caddick described her as ‘manipulative, Machiavellian and malicious’
Baker, who lived in a £354,000 terraced home, also admitted being in contempt of court for not revealing assets she had hidden.
Baker also broke a court restraining order by cashing in a pension plan worth £26,000 which she put into a concealed bank account.
There was only 50p left in it after she transferred some to a sister and spent the rest on gambling, a holiday and household expenses.
She pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position and eight breaches of the restraining order.
Jailing her, Judge Stephen Warner said: ‘This was systematic and planned dishonesty on a vast scale committed over many years in breach of a high degree of trust.
‘I accept it was to feed the scourge of a gambling addiction. It explains your conduct, but cannot justify it.’
Walton Hornsby, prosecuting, said she siphoned money into her accounts by authorising payments to an unknown supplier.
It left the company in financial chaos. The number of staff was reduced from 70 to 36 with nine compulsory redundancies – some of whom were suggested by Baker.
The firm had supplied the lighting for Roman Abramovich’s superyacht Eclipse (file picture)
When asked by gambling firms to prove proof of her income, she forged the owner David Caddick’s signature on paperwork that stated she earned £750 a day at the firm as a consultant.
During police interviews, she confessed she could lose up to £4,000 a night gambling.
Outside court, the firm’s owner David Caddick, 59, said: ‘She was manipulative, Machiavellian and malicious. She hoodwinked us all from the start’.
‘But, despite her actions, we have got through it and I can’t thank my staff and colleagues enough for the way they responded when it came out what she’d done to us all.
‘As a result of what she did to us, it’s made us stronger as a company and we are more optimistic and successful than we have ever been.’
Where all the money went is still unknown. Baker has steadfastly refused to tell Mr Caddick or the police if there is any left and where it is.
It is known that, as well as gambling with the money she stole, she funded family weddings and put money into relatives’ businesses.
‘All this was our money and she still obstinately refuses to tell us where any of it is or give any of it up in the hope that she will benefit from her heinous crimes on her release from prison,’ he said.
Baker lived in this £354,000 terraced home in the Hertfordshire town of Hemel Hempstead
It was in November 2012 that Baker went to work for the company which makes light fittings for bars, restaurants, luxury yachts and houses, as well as top hotels.
Her role was financial controller and she came highly recommended as someone who could grow businesses and help boost their fortunes.
Mr Caddick and his partner Tim Henderson, who had founded the company 20 years earlier, were convinced that smartly-dressed Baker would quickly prove to be an asset.
She made friends easily with the staff and could come across as pleasant and even ‘mumsy,’ bringing in home-made cakes for break times.
But within six weeks of joining the firm which, at its height, employed around 70 people, Baker began stealing money and the first sum to make its way into her account was £5,000.
Baker, who was earning £45,000 a year, was responsible for making regular payments to The Light Corporation’s suppliers in the form of BACS payments.
She would authorise ‘batches’ of payments to suppliers and, hidden amongst the bank details for the different companies, Baker had included her own bank account.
Then, with her knowledge of the company’s payments system, she used her position to cover her tracks by falsifying, erasing and destroying company records and wiping her computer.
Baker was the £45,000-a-year financial controller for The Light Corporation in Berkhamsted
For six years Baker used the method to systematically plunder the finances of The Light Corporation to the tune of a staggering £2,011,983.36.
Mr Caddick said: ‘Every day Baker came to work it was with the full and premeditated intention of destroying my business.’
Back in 2012 the company was doing well, with many lucrative orders, but Mr Caddick admitted the ‘maverick design environment and culture’ that had been nurtured there had created a ‘buzzy but confused and chaotic’ atmosphere.
He now recognises that the creative and chaotic structure of the business was ripe for Baker to exploit, knowing that any awkward enquiries about payments could be easily fobbed off.
As time went on, Mr Caddick and his partner Mr Henderson found themselves perplexed at the state of the company’s finances.
David, the son of a miner from South Yorkshire, said: ‘We were growing the business, cash was coming in and we were doing £7-8million of business a year. We were paying our suppliers and the order books were bulging, but where was the money?
‘We certainly didn’t think our Financial Controller was stealing from us.’
The company struggled on, but were unable to pay wage rises to the staff or annual bonuses. Regular staff Christmas parties had to be cancelled, along with summer barbecues and other social events.
Both Mr Caddick and Mr Henderson put substantial amounts of their own money into the business initially to help to prop it up, all of which was stolen by Baker. He said there was a real threat the company could go under.
Towards the end of 2017, Louise Baldock, who is a shareholder at The Light Corporation, was brought in to look more closely at the financial situation the company was in and began asking Baker more probing, searching, financial questions.
As a result of the sudden scrutiny she found herself under, Baker left the company in early 2018.
Mr Caddick still had no idea she had taken more than £2million from his company.
It was the arrival of new financial controller, Tarun Kanini, who finally unearthed what she had been up to and the police were brought in last summer.
David said: ‘To cap it all, when Baker left our employ, she brazenly began proceedings for unfair dismissal against us claiming £30,000 as compensation and offering to drop the case for a quick settlement.’
During the time she worked for the company, Baker had a profile piece on the internet talking about her role with the firm, in which she said: ‘I am principally responsible for the day to day organisation of the company’s finances.
‘I also, as a member of the management team, contribute to strategic planning, financial restructuring, budgeting, detailed management accounts and planning.
‘In addition to this, I oversee credit control, accounts payable, payroll, cash forecasting, budgeting, recruiting, paying suppliers and lead the company’s HR effort.’
Mr Caddick said he later discovered that before Baker resigned, she had been briefing against his company.
He added: ‘She was doing it internally and externally with the sole intention of forcing the business down onto its knees and into liquidation.
‘She did this so that her crime of stealing the £2.1million that we know of would go undiscovered and she could move onto the next victim.
‘She was talking in this manner to suppliers and customers alike. The fact is she hid it all in plain sight behind her apparent feigned incompetence and niceness’.
‘She has shown no remorse for what she did and she hasn’t contacted me or offered to return any of the money she stole. It condemns her as the malevolent individual she is.
‘I believe she sees any jail sentence as one worth taking so that she can emerge to make use of her ill-gotten gains.’
Mr Caddick said that, as a result of Baker’s crimes, around 30 of her colleagues were made redundant or let go in a bid by the firm to save money on overheads.
‘Some of these people she selected herself when she was still stealing significant sums of money from us. She actively participated in the procedure by being present when many of the employees were told of their fate.
‘These are people who, in some cases, thought she was a friend.’
He said many people had been affected by her dishonestly, adding: ‘Joyce Baker is a seasoned, consummate and contemptible confidence trickster and a liar.
‘She stabbed people in the back who thought she was a friend. She threatened their livelihoods and their ability to put food on the table for their families.’
He has nothing but praise for his wife Gail and family, Louise, all his colleagues and staff who helped the company survive, as well as the countless suppliers and customers who stuck with The Light Corporation offering their loyalty and support.
For a while he said it was a ‘relentless day to day battle’ to keep the company trading, but added: ‘We’ve come out of it undefeated, unbowed, unbeaten and undiminished.’
Nathalie Carter, defending, said: ‘She had gambling problem that started slowly. Initially it was bingo then slot machines at Bingo, then slot machines at casinos and then online gambling. It is a dreadful shameful waste. She did not live a lavish lifestyle.
In an email to her solicitor, Baker wrote: ‘I will for ever be remorseful that the people I took from were family and friends.’
A restraining order has been placed on the matrimonial home of Baker which is the only significant asset and which prevents it from being sold by her.