A trusted admin assistant at a large vets’ practice may have stolen up to £140,000 over five years, according to former colleagues.
Gayle Middlemas last week admitted stealing £100,000 from the Greenside practice in Melrose but her former colleagues have spoken out to condemn her “betrayal” and suggest she may have stolen even more.
Clinical director Andrew Armitage said: “While we were all working hard to make a success of the practice, Gayle Middlemas was continually pocketing cash clients paid for vet treatment. She was trusted to handle money but betrayed that trust.
“All this was done while she pretended to be the perfect employee and colleague. It was a terrible betrayal of everyone in the practice. We all looked on her as a colleague who could do her job properly and honestly.
“Everyone knows how hard staff at vet practices work. There are long hours, emergency calls to ill and injured animals and we thought we had employed someone who had proven their honesty after years in the practice at a junior level.
“However, as soon as she got to handle cash, she pocketed it and covered her tracks.
“When the books were down slightly, she went to great lengths to convince everyone that our accounting system was faulty. Even an audit of the system by accountants failed to unearth the constant drip of theft.
“It went on for around five years, we believe, until a discrepancy appeared that she could not explain.”
Over a five-year period, the vets believe Middlemas stole more than £140,000 from the firm, a large practice employing 15 vets.
She splashed out on a Land Rover Discovery and Mini Cooper, bought an outdoor hot tub and went on luxury spa weekends.
Middlemas, 30, had worked at the firm since leaving school, starting as an animal assistant before taking on the role of an administration assistant, running the firms computerised accounts and taking money to the bank.
Many of the firm’s customers paid in cash, which she would pocket before recording the transaction as a credit card payment.
She cleverly covered her tracks so that, even when accountants spotted something was wrong, neither they or the firm’s IT system provider was able to work out what was going on.
As the net closed in, Middlemas tried to blame other colleagues. This caused great distress to some who had to give witness statements, and faced giving evidence in court.
It was only when a police investigation led to her being charged with theft that she eventually admitted what she had done.
Middlemas, 30, pleaded guilty to stealing £100,000.
Last week she appeared at Selkirk Sheriff Court, where prosecutor Fiona Hamilton said that at the end of 2015 and start of 2016 a financial discrepancy was raised by a manager. She continued: “It was explained by the accused and no further action taken. The practice was then sold and errors noticed.”
Ms Hamilton said several card payments were queried and, when they could not get an answer from Middlemas, suspicions were raised.
Middlemas was confronted by bosses, who said she would rectify the mistake, but was unable to provide the missing receipts.
Miss Hamilton said bosses were still under the impression she was doing her job incorrectly, rather than dishonestly. But Middlemas became upset at the claims against her and resigned.
In 2019 a customer produced a cash receipt for a payment that had been put through the system as a card payment. Miss Hamilton said: “The staff became of the view the cash had been taken by the accused. A full investigation was launched and several other payments had been changed from cash to card payments and multiple discrepancies identified as payments taken.
A warrant was obtained to search Middlemas’ home and bank accounts, which showed several large deposits amounting to £100,000 over three years.
Defence lawyer Ed Hulme said Middlemas was a gambling addict. He said she had not repaid any of the money, as this had been spent on her gambling.
Mr Armitage added: “I am pleased she has pleaded guilty because the truth has emerged. At one point she blamed me for the theft but her admission of guilt in court says otherwise.”
Another vet at the practice, Catherine Cameron, revealed how manipulative Middlemas was. “She even babysat to look after my two children. My husband and I had to go somewhere at short notice and she volunteered to help us out. Nothing seemed to be too much trouble,” said Catherine.
“We now realise that this was all part of her strategy to play the obliging colleague so that no one would ever suspect her of doing anything wrong. The admission of guilt in court is what we have been waiting for.”
Sheriff Donald Corke adjourned sentencing until October 5.
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