A worker who embezzled more than £50,000 from an Amersham estate agents while working from home during lockdown has been given a suspended sentence.

Hadlands estate agents accused Paul Cheriton of abusing his position as a trusted employee to fraudulently obtain tens of thousands of pounds by diverting payments intended for clients into accounts that he controlled.

With staff working from home, Mr Cheriton diverted payments that were intended for landlord clients into accounts he had set up.

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The estate agency, with an office in Chesham Road, pursued a private prosecution against the former employee, who worked in the accounts and finance department, because they were concerned about delays in police investigations and "poor statistics of fraud prosecutions".

Mr Cheriton, who according to court documents is from Kilwinning in Scotland, pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation between August 1, 2019, and December 31, 2020.

He was ordered to carry out 250 hours of community service and was given a two-year suspended prison sentence.

Hadlands estate agency has served Amersham and the wider Thames Valley area for nearly 30 years. Managing director Simon Hadland said: "Many businesses have struggled during the pandemic and this sort of fraudulent activity puts people’s livelihoods at risk.

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"We took the unusual step of prosecuting this case privately to ensure that Mr Cheriton couldn’t do this again to someone else.”

“We have ensured that our clients weren’t impacted by this fraud and all losses have been covered,” he added.

“I want to thank the team at JMW Solicitors for their continued support in bringing Mr Cheriton to justice.”

On the case, Daniel Martin, Partner at JMW Solicitors, said: “The defendant exploited working from home in order to get away with it for longer than would otherwise be the case.

"As the business tried to adapt to WFH practices during the pandemic they had no choice but to place a lot of trust in their workforce.

"He diverted payments that were intended for landlord clients into accounts that he had set up with similar names in order to avoid detection.

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"The business had to cover the losses themselves to ensure that no clients were impacted as a result.”

On why it was a private rather than public prosecution, Daniel added: “The company was concerned about the widely reported delays in police investigations and the poor statistics of fraud prosecutions.

"They wanted to bring the case as quickly as possible to stop him offending further, potentially targeting other small businesses.”