‘A blatant and cynical betrayal’: Judge jails sick gambling addict who stole £273k from firm while his boss was dying of cancer

Stephen Fox has been jailed for four years
Stephen Fox has been jailed for four years

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 of Tring 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 or his wife Angela, who she said was the manager of the Citizen Advice Bureau in Hemel Hempstead.

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

Fox, of Standring Rise in Hemel, pleaded guilty at Luton crown court 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 15 employees, 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.

Defending, Alex Britton handed the judge a Land Registry charge form against Fox’s home. He said his best mitigation was Fox’s guilty plea.

“It has been said Mr Fox isn’t remorseful. In conversation with myself and probation he has expressed remorse. He made admissions from the start. He is deeply ashamed by his actions,” Mr Britton said.

He said until October 2014 he had “never stolen a paperclip and had been a model employee.”

Mr Britton said Fox’s mental health had been declining as he suffered from anxiety and depression.

By the summer of 2014 he was drinking alcohol first thing in the morning.

“Whilst drinking, he would gamble. The amount of gambling was phenomenal. It was a complete addiction. Everything he won he then gambled. At the end of the day he was left with nothing,” said Mr Britton.

He said his wife knew nothing and will lose her home. “He recognises he has ruined numerous other people’s lives.”

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.”