A boss has reacted with disbelief after two former bookkeepers charged with embezzling £400,000 from his East Wemyss business escaped a jail sentence.
Last week at Dunfermline Sheriff Court, Susan Barnes (43) of Buckhaven and Elizabeth Rodger (50) from Methil, were handed 250 hours unpaid community service for stealing from Component Erectors Ltd over a 10-year period.
The pair pleaded guilty to taking - and are expected to pay back - £20,000 and £25,000, respectively.
“It was a hard pill to take,’’ said owner David Stevenson, who said the pair were considered friends of the family.
“What message does that send out? ”
“When I heard it would not a be a custodial crime my heart just stopped,” added his daughter, Mel Adamson (37).
“If I had the choice of them paying some money back or them getting time, I would have chosen the time.”
Two years ago Mr Stevenson discovered Rodger, of Wellesley Road, had been paying herself a 39-hour week despite being a part-time worker.
After taking books home, the extent of the deceit became clearer.
“They had been paying themselves bonuses and holiday pay,” he said.
According to Mr Stevenson, Barnes - of Chapel Street, Buckhaven - claimed she had been struggling financially when he confronted her and, sobbing, apologised and offered to pay the money back. The next day, Rodger made a similar offer by telephone.
“By this time the figure was £44,000 and I thought it’s a few grand but let them pay it back and then we’ll move on,” said Mr Stevenson.
However, on the advice of his solicitor he reported the matter to police and a fraud investigation revealed their crimes had gone on undetected since 2001.
“You name it, they did it. £68,000 directly through wages plus ghost cheques, petty cash,” said Mrs Adamson.
The practice was sporadic at first, then became regular as time went on.
The betrayal was made all the worse because Mrs Adamson considered Rodger to be a “big sister”.
“It was horrible, I was so angry. She shopped till she dropped - me, as a mum-of-three, couldn’t do the shopping she did.”
Because the former employees plea-bargained a deal and pleaded guilty, the family were denied a trial.
“It was a big kick in the teeth,” said Mrs Adamson.
“I would like to know the usual questions: why, who started it and why did they think they were entitled to it?”
Mr Stevenson, who is planning to mark the firm’s 25th anniversary next year, said he had been guilty of trusting his employees too easily.
“I would come in and the fact they weren’t working wouldn’t bother me,”
“That’s how hard I was as an employer...too soft.”