A HAYDON man used his “highly trusted position” to cause his company to lose almost £700,000 in an act that almost saw a business with a turnover in excess of £20 million go under.

Nicholas Gray, who was head of finance at digital marketing agency Equimedia, used the company’s credit cards to make personal purchases, defrauding his employer of 14 years out of more than £50,000.

His actions almost saw the company go out of business after HMRC threatened to issue a winding up order.

Gray, of Mazurek Way, was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison on Thursday after admitting dishonestly abusing his position in a fraud described as “sophisticated with deliberate steps taken to cover his tracks”.

Swindon Crown Court heard that Andrew Burgess, founder and CEO of the Gloucestershire-based firm, had stumbled across the fraud by chance in 2017 when he became aware of “some serious financial anomalies”.

As well as the credit card, the company’s PayPal account showed that he had made withdrawals to his own bank account, prosecutor Thomas Wilkins said.

“The sums taken by Mr Gray were relatively small, but crucial bills had not been paid and the company were teetering on the edge of going out of business.

“Some sums were uncollected by the client and at one point in mid-2017 cash collection had come virtually to a halt. Beyond the fraud, he was taking active steps to harm the company’s financial position.”

Mr Wilkins said that Equimedia had lost an account for Age UK based on his actions.

“It seems that what he did steal was used on luxury items rather than any desperate need. During interview, he attempted to deflect blame on the business owner,” Mr Wilkins continued.

“There was a direct loss totalling £53,000. However, the other losses were substantially higher than that.”

He said that the total lost was estimated at £678,000.

Meanwhile, Mr Burgess said in a statement to police, read out in court, that Gray was “prepared to bring down the whole company to cover up his fraud”.

“It was the complexity of his cover up that has caused me more time and grief,” he added. “It remains our belief that Mr Gray stole more than we were able to identify.”

Defending, Anthony Bignall told the court that Gray, aged 42, was “quite convinced he was entitled to do what he was doing” when the case first came to court in February 2020, and only when an accountant explained the situation did he understand that he was in the wrong.

“It took a long time for reality to sink in for Mr Gray but it did,” he said. “Now he is where he is having served four months ever since he was remanded in custody.

“In that time he has done a lot of reflecting and written several times to me, saying how remorseful he is on the impact on his wife and children, and the devastation he has left behind.

“He is genuinely sorry that he caused the loss to the Burgess family.”

However, Mr Bignall did raise concerns that he hadn’t been able to challenge the total figures of loss, which had only come to light after his client had changed his plea to guilty.

It was also heard how Gray had failed to surrender to the court for his initial date for sentencing, which had delayed the court case for four months, because he had been “burying his head in the sand” and hadn’t told his family what he was facing.

“He was foolish for doing that, but in my submission not wicked,” Mr Bignall said.

Sentencing, Judge Jason Taylor QC said that Gray was in a “highly trusted position” and had “both the knowledge and the wherewithal to commit and cover your tracks for a fraud”.

“You had a good salary and had no reason to commit this fraud other than greed and a desire to live a lifestyle beyond your means.

“The fraud came to light by chance. Had it not, there could have been far more serious consequences; a wind-up notice was on the cards at one stage.”

Judge Taylor said he was unconvinced that he was deliberately trying to sabotage the company, but did say that he was happy to create a “wholly misleading picture with no regards for those who have placed trust in you, even if that brought the company down”.

He jailed Gray for a total of four years and nine months.