A WOMAN who stole £437,000 from her employer to bankroll a house renovation and fund a lavish lifestyle has been jailed for five years.

Emma Elizabeth Rhodes stole the money over a two-and-a-half year period from Norco Holdings, a group of companies in Dorset that employ around 150 people.

When police raided her home she was living in a caravan and wooden chalet at the rear of the property, while her house was being extensively rebuilt and modified.

Officers also found documents relating to the purchase of an £80,000 Range Rover Sport and a receipt for a £8,300 Rolex watch.

Rhodes, who only changed her plea to guilty at the last minute, even tried to blame her employer for being complicit in the theft – an allegation which was completely unfounded.

She had also used her ill-gotten gains to pay for luxury hotel breaks, holidays in the sun and skiing trips. The only available assets recovered were two shotguns and a diamond ring.

Detective Constable Steph Ashworth, of Bournemouth CID, said: “Emma Rhodes abused her position of trust with her employer and carried out a sustained campaign to defraud the company of a huge amount of money over a two and a half year period.

"She did this out of pure greed to finance her house build and a lavish lifestyle.

"She pleaded guilty just two weeks before the trial was due to be held and caused the victim further anxiety by making unfounded allegations that he had been complicit in the fraud."

The 37-year-old had been set to go to trial at Bournemouth Crown Court, but on Monday, November 2 she pleaded guilty to an offence of fraud.

She was handed down the prison sentence at the same court on Friday, November 20.

The court heard how the offences were committed between December 2015 and May 2018, when Rhodes had been working as a financial controller. Initially she earned £30,000 a year, but this rose to £40,000.

In May 2018 Rhodes was dismissed from the company after an internal disciplinary procedure which related to an indiscretion in the workplace.

Her boss became concerned after irregularities were highlighted within the finances of the firm after her dismissal.

After the company's bank was contacted it was established money had been paid into accounts held by Rhodes and another man.

On the same day these accounts were frozen, the court heard, Rhodes sent a lengthy WhatsApp message to her former boss in which she referred to the missing money and pleaded with him to not go to the police. She even spoke about harming herself.

A detailed financial investigation was carried out into the company accounts, which revealed that the theft offences were committed between Friday 18 December 2015 and Tuesday 8 May 2018. All 29 thefts were concealed in legitimate transactions and ranged from £1,632 to just over £35,000.

In total £7,000 was stolen in 2015, £91,000 in 2016, £233,000 in 2017 and £194,000 up to her dismissal in 2018.

All the money was paid into three Lloyds bank accounts belonging to Rhodes. One of the accounts used was held jointly with another man.

In a prepared statement, Rhodes, of Manor Lane, Verwood, claimed the victim had been complicit in the fraud to avoid having to pay tax. None of this was substantiated.

Det Con Ashworth said: “I hope this case yet again demonstrates Dorset Police’s commitment to investigate fraud offences such as this and I would like to thank all those involved in this case for their assistance and professionalism.”

The court heard that proceedings will be commenced under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to recover the money she stole.

• A 42 year-old man from Verwood had been charged with converting criminal property under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, but the offence was later withdrawn at court and he will face no further police or court action.