A receptionist at a York veterinary practice stole more than £20,000 during a two-year fraud spree.
Laura Plews, 34, a mother-of-two, paid client ‘refunds’ into her own bank account in more than 80 separate transactions while working as head receptionist at Minster Veterinary Practice between June 2020 and March 2022, York Crown Court heard.
Prosecutor Ayman Khokar said that in early 2022, the head of finance at the Vet Partners group, which managed the York veterinary practice, carried out an investigation.
It identified an “abnormally high” number of refunds which had been paid to the same bank card over a period of just under two years.
The investigation revealed that this bank card belonged to Plews who had transacted 56 ‘refunds’ during that period, said Mr Khokar.
At that stage, Plews, of The Croft, Sheriff Hutton, was thought to have made £18,500 of dodgy refunds. However, the investigators then discovered that a further 27 fraudulent transactions had occurred on two other bank cards belonging to the former receptionist.
The total fraudulent refunds amounted to just over £20,500.
“The surgery reimbursed all the customers who were affected,” said Mr Khokar.
Trusted by colleagues
Plews made the fraudulent refunds at two Minster Vets branches in Willow Grove and Salisbury Road in York after she had been promoted to head receptionist.
He said that Plews, who had debts, mostly used old and closed clients’ accounts to make these ‘refunds’ which would end up in her own coffers.
He said that in one case, she used the closed account of a “very old” client who had last used the veterinary practice in 2012.
Mr Khokar said Plews’s fraud had not only affected the veterinary group but also her former colleagues who had “trusted her”.
Plews, who had been working at the vets for about 10 years, pleaded guilty to fraud and appeared for sentence today (Wednesday, 18 January).
Her solicitor advocate Graham Parkin said she had owned up to the fraud as soon as she was arrested and had contacted one of the group’s directors to offer to repay the practice.
Mother of two
Judge Simon Hickey said it was clear that Plews had stolen the money because she was in debt.
He said he had to take into consideration the fact that Plews was a mother-of-two with caring responsibilities who had shown remorse and had never been in trouble before.
He said that to jail Plews would be “too unjust” for those for whom she cared, which was “the main reason I draw back from (an immediate prison sentence)”.
Plews received a 12-month suspended prison sentence and ordered to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work.
The judge also set a timetable for confiscation proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act which will determine how much Plews repays.