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A cheating agency director stole more than £128,000 from an estate agency she ran with business partners, including her husband.
Minshull Street Crown Court in Manchester heard that Joanne Barker, 46, stole rental payments earmarked for landlords after she started a secret affair with her personal trainer, Andrew Taylor, despite being married to and working with her husband Paul Barker.
The Daily Mail reports that throughout the course of 2014 to 2018, the mother-of-one also went behind the backs of Ian and Jo-Anne Tweedley, the couple’s best friends and fellow directors of the agency Barton Kendall, based in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.
Barker was finally exposed as a thief when several landlords, who had assigned the agency to collect money from tenants, complained about not receiving their income.
Investigations later revealed how Barker diverted money from the firm’s client account into her own personal bank account – which she used to make rental payments to a fictitious landlord and pay for a £3,640 central heating system at her £400,000 marital home, Manchester’s Minshull Street Crown Court heard.
She also used her lover’s bank account to deposit £8,586 worth of stolen cash and allowed him to live rent-free for six months in one of the firm’s properties.
Joanne Barker was sentenced to two years jail suspended for two years after claiming she was now living off state benefits in a flat in Salford and was needed to care for her elderly mother.
It is believed she has now split up with 50-year-old Paul Barker. The court heard the Tweedleys had been able to recompense all the landlords and other victims affected via their insurers.
The thefts occurred shortly after the Tweedleys, who purchased an equal stake in Barton Kendall in 2008, joined the Barkers as equal shareholders of the firm in 2015. Joanne Barker had initially been the lettings agency manageress at the Rochdale branch whilst her husband was a manager at Middleton.
In a statement, Paul Tweedley, 57, said: “Jo and I worked tirelessly to build up and maintain the business in really difficult times and we became one of the leading lettings agencies in the area with a longstanding reputation.
“I thought life was rosy, I thought we were financially secure albeit not rich, the mortgage was nearly paid off and I was gearing up to retire at 60. When we took on Joanne, she became a trusted family friend and I felt assured she would run the business in my absence.
“But all that came crashing down when I found out she was siphoning off clients’ money from the business and stealing all the tenants deposits. That day was the worst of my life. I was in the office at 3am as I couldn’t sleep and my heart sunk as I realised my business was in tatters.
“That same morning my sister rang me to say my nephew had been involved a in tragic accident and lost his life. I was numb, I hit rock bottom and we were truly at a horrendous point in our lives.
“What followed was two years of stress, panic and exhaustion to the point of nearly having a breakdown. I was determined to save the business but with such limited funds I was very concerned we might have to fold the company as I didn’t see a way out.
“I realised this would have an impact on our staff who had been conned and our many landlords who have been our clients for many years. I felt humiliated and embarrassed. The thought of ending of my life did not occur to me but I was as low and desperate as I have ever been.
“Jo and I ploughed all our savings into the business. I sold my beloved car to pay off the landlords and obtained a £50,000 business loan to pay off contractors. It was almost catastrophic.
“We lost some big landlords, over 50 managed properties, over £50,000 a year. Our insurance premiums went up from £1,600 a year to £20,000. Our standing as one of the leading estate agents in the town has dropped and our reputation has been severely tarnished.”