A WOMAN who defrauded her Kidderminster employers out of more than £450,000 has been ordered to pay back the proceeds of her crimes.

In 2011, Joanne Collins, formerly of Green Park Road in Bromsgrove, was employed as the office and accounts manager at Serfis Construction and Engineering, a family-run construction firm based in Church Street at the time.

In June 2018, concerns were raised about payments made to companies who Serfis, now based in Stourbridge, did not have business dealings with.

It was discovered that between 2012 and 2018, Collins had made payments worth more than £451,000 to three fake companies, which were processed into her own account.

The 53-year-old was dismissed from the company in December 2018 and was charged with fraud by abuse of position of trust.

During a trial in December, Hereford Crown Court heard how Collins was a trusted member of staff at Serfis and was treated like part of the family. She was given her own company credit card, a car, and was able to sign cheques on behalf of the business.

On Friday, June 26 at Worcester Crown Court, Judge James Burbidge sentenced Collins to three years and eight months in prison.

A confiscation order was also made, requiring Collins to pay back the £451,601.61 that she stole.

The amount Collins was found to have available was £117,457.52 - made up entirely from the sale of Collins’ house in Bromsgrove - and a compensation order was made to Serfis for the full amount.

Collins was given two months to pay the £117,000, otherwise she will be sentenced to a further two years imprisonment in default of payment.

Detective Inspector Emma Wright, of the Economic Crime Unit at West Mercia Police, said: “The sentence imposed upon Collins reflects the severity of her crime and the abuse of the trust placed in her by her employers.

"This outcome is testament to a thorough criminal investigation by officers from the Criminal Investigation Department in North Worcestershire.

“In addition to the custodial sentence, Collins has been stripped of the trappings of her crime by powers under the Proceeds of Crime Act as a result of a financial investigation by West Mercia Police Economic Crime Unit.

"A confiscation order imposed means she must pay the victims back £117,000 or face further time in prison. This order goes some way to compensate Serfis Construction and Engineering, a family run business, who have been impacted significantly by the criminal conduct of Collins.

“Furthermore, should Collins be found to have further assets in the future, she will be required to pay these back, until the total amount of £451,000 has been satisfied.

"This case demonstrates that those who commit serious fraud will be tackled by West Mercia Police; both by bringing them to justice and by removing the proceeds of the crimes, to compensate victims.”