A mother-of-four stole more than £18,000 from her employer of 14 years to help pay off her spiralling debts and feed her children.

Catherine Wiggins had worked part time for Alan Duffy, of Alan Duffy Building Contractors and Alan Duffy Properties, since 2007, and had been entrusted with keys to his office as well as his home.

Burnley Crown Court heard how prior to her offending, Mr Duffy had viewed Wiggins highly, as someone with impeccable time keeping and had described their working relationship as “perfect”.

Stephen Parker, prosecuting, told the court that in her role, Wiggins, 35, was responsible for invoicing and job quotes and was authorised to use Mr Duffy’s online bank account, completing transactions as and when was required, paying builders’ wages and building suppliers.

He said: “The first whiff that anything was wrong came in June 2019 when Mr Duffy received a phone call from Royal Bank of Scotland asking if he’d authorised a payment to be made to what looked like a loan company.

“Mr Duffy said he hadn’t and assumed he’d been targeted in a scam. He certainly did not expect it had anything to do with the defendant at this time.

“As a result, he set up CCTV cameras in his offices, but found it strange when the defendant asked him, ‘is that camera on me’, and proceeded to move her computer from its usual position.”

The court heard that on another occasion, Mr Duffy had requested to see some bank statements but instead of providing him with these, Wiggins, of Lincoln Court, Church, provided him with a chart.

Then in August 2019 while Wiggins was on annual leave, Mr Duffy was checking some bank statements himself and noticed a payment to a company called Gauge and Build.

Mr Parker added: “Between October 2017 and August 2019 there had been a number of transactions of between £160 and £400 each, put down as office supplies.

“He knew he had not authorised these and so he phoned the defendant to ask if she knew anything and she said she didn’t.”

It was later discovered, after Mr Duffy phoned his bank, that Wiggins had set the Gauge and Build company up in her own name, with the account being opened at a TSB branch in Blackburn.

After trawling through two years’ worth of statements with his bank’s fraud team, Mr Duffy found that more than £18,000 in transactions had been authorised to be paid to Gauge and Build.

Mr Parker said: “Wiggins was confronted, and she admitted to him over the phone that she was responsible for the siphoned money.”

It was heard Wiggins had been in a considerable amount of debt, not helped by the fact her then partner was being abusive, and she was struggling to support her four children.

Mr Parker said: “She indicated she had limited means and got herself into financial debt and understood if Mr Duffy felt he needed to contact the police.

“She told Mr Duffy she would pay every penny back and began putting some of her belongings up for sale immediately.

“Mr Duffy said in one message to the defendant, ‘I am absolutely mortified, how could you steal from me in what was a premeditated plan? I was broken into last year and you were aware of that and then you do this to me and my family’.

“Wiggins was interviewed by the police and made full admissions and said she only stole the money to pay off her debt and feed her children.”

Mitigating for Wiggins, Anna Chestnutt said her client’s financial situation was “out of control” and she was under pressure to not only pay her own debt off but that of her partner.

Wiggins, who has no previous convictions was sentenced to 12 months in prison, suspended for two years, ordered to carry out five rehabilitation activity days and 150 hours unpaid work and will be required to pay back the money she stole in full.