‘Massive betrayal’ of the man who stole £273,000 as his friend and boss was dying

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A director who ‘pillaged’ the company accounts to pay for his gambling addiction while the owner had cancer has been jailed for four years.

Stephen Fox, 49, stole £273,000 from long-established insurance brokers SJ Stoddart which forced the company into liquidation.

It left customers without home, car or medical insurance and meant the widow of firm founder Stephen Stoddart had to sell the family home.

In a victim personal statement, Christine Stoddart said: “He was stealing when my adored husband was ill and even after his death.

“Stephen Fox destroyed everything my husband worked for over 40 years, including the company’s name and reputation.

“It was a massive betrayal by someone who we treated as a member of the family.

“The business was pillaged. I am left with nothing.”

Mrs Stoddart said she had received no apology from Fox.

When her husband died, aged 66, Fox even requested his death certificate which 
allowed him to access Santander bonds that the company used as an emergency cash reserve.

Fox, of Standring Rise in Hemel Hempstead, pleaded guilty to the theft 
of £273,774.51p between October 7 2014 and August 6 
2015.

Prosecutor Daniel Siong said: “The defendant was in an extremely high position of trust.

“Over 10 months he used the company’s online banking system to transfer funds from two business accounts into his own bank accounts.”

He said Fox had started work for SJ Stoddart in 
1988 and in 1996 became a director.

At its height, the company had offices in Berkhamsted and Tring, but had down-sized in recent years and by 2013 it was down to just Mr Stoddart and Fox.

In June 2014 Mr Stoddart was diagnosed with cancer and while receiving treatment and being gravely ill, Fox was in sole in charge of the company.

The accountant twice described Fox as “a safe pair of hands.”

In April and May last year, Mr Stoddart’s son returned from Australia and queried amounts that had been taken out of the account by Fox.

Fox estimated the amount he had taken from the company at between £80,000 and £90,000 – ‘a gross underestimate’, Mr Siong said.

He said the prosecution had obtained a statement from the company BET 365 which showed he had deposited a total of £347,224 with them.

Jailing him, Judge Lynn Tayton QC said: “All the thefts occurred when Mr Stoddart was gravely ill and dying and even after his death.

“It appeared Mr Stoddart had complete faith in you to run the business. He had supported you and had supported your career. It was a blatant and cynical betrayal of the family’s trust.”