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Gran, 56, stole mobile phones worth £24,000 after 'pressure by loan shark' – Manchester Evening News


A grandmother who stole high-end mobile phones from the courier firm she worked for was “pressured” into doing so by a “loan shark” she is now hiding from, a court heard.

Julie Birchenough, 56, who was a security manager tasked with preventing thefts by staff, swiped 24 phones worth around £24,000.

She was eventually caught out after suspicious bosses installed covert cameras in her office at the base where she worked.

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At her sentencing hearing, she claimed she had been put under ‘significant pressure’ to steal them in a bid to wipe a £1,000 back-street loan that she was unable to meet the ‘astronomical’ repayments for.

And she narrowly avoided being straight to prison by a judge after he was told she had not been ‘living the high life’ or earned any money from her crimes

Birchenough, from Lancashire, had worked for delivery firm Yodel for around 10 years, and was based at their branch on Beal Lane in Shaw, Oldham, Minshull Street Crown Court heard.



Birchenough pleaded guilty to four counts of theft by an employee

Her role involved her overseeing the safe and secure movement of goods within the depot.

As a highly trusted member in the security team, she was not subject to the same security requirements as the staff she managed, Harriet Lavin, prosecuting said

However in August 2019 a “significant pattern of loss” led bosses at the firm to investigate and to install covert cameras.

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Then in the early hours of a night shift, on August 21, Birchenough was seen walking to her car “keeping her arms tightly by her side.”

As a result was searched and although nothing was found on her person, two mobile phones were found under the driver’s seat of the car.

Police officers attended and she was arrested.



Birchenough was handed a suspended sentence

During a search of her home 13 phones were then found in her wardrobe and another three in a package in the kitchen.

There was also a ‘memo book’ which referred to a number of other phones, Ms Lavin said.

She added Yodel had been forced to meet all the financial loss of the phones.

Birchenough, originally from near Blackpool, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to four counts of theft by an employee.

She had now been sacked and was working in a fish and chip shop, the court was told.

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Mark Fireman, defending, said Birchenough, who the court was told has mobility issues as a result of arthritis and who appeared in the dock using a crutch, had resorted to stealing the phones as a result of pressure from a “loan shark” who had lent her money.

He said that when the defendent’s mother was alive they had “a car that was paid for by disability benefits” but following her mother’s death “that went.”

She said wanted to buy a “modest” car to “assist her in everyday life” but was “rebuffed” for a loan by mainstream finance firms, so borrowed £1,000 from someone she found via a newspaper advert, Mr Fireman said.

However she “didn’t understand” what she was getting herself into and began struggling to meet the “astronomical” interest charges, he added.

“This person followed her to where she worked and told her in order to pay back the money she would have to steal from her employers. She didn’t want to” ,Mr Fireman said.

She thought the first six phones she stole would be enough, he added, but said she was “put under more pressure to steal more and more phones.”

“There is no evidence she was doing anything other with these phones than handing them over to this person who had made her steal them.”

He said Birchenough had now been forced to “flee” and had moved from the area where she had been living as they still insisted she owed them money.

However passing sentence, the judge Recorder Michael Maher said he could understand why the prosecution were ‘sceptical’ about her version of events.

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“You had a good job as a security manager,” he told her.

“You had a high degree of responsibility.

“You were tasked with making sure staff didn’t pilfer goods which were in transit.

“I ask myself why does a woman in her mid-fifties of impeccable character throw it to the four winds?

“You say demands were made by a faceless individual operating in the shadows which were coercive and threatening.

“I say faceless as you have refused to name this individual. And you have placed before me no evidence of the original loan.

“It’s little wonder the prosecution say they are sceptical.”

He added that the notebook found in her home had “all the hallmarks of a “steal to order situation” and was a “cause for concern.”

However he said the fact she had obtained new, low paid work was “testament to your work ethic.”

And he said had taken the decision that he was just about able to suspend her prison sentence.

She was sentenced to 12 months in prison suspended for 18 months.

She was also ordered to do 80 hours of unpaid work and 25 rehabilitation activity requirement days.





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