An Abergavenny business owner told a court of his upset after a former employee fleeced him of tens of thousands of pounds.

Ian McDonald, owner of Abergavenny Garden Centre, told Cardiff Crown Court that his former office manager, Zena Price, had ‘devastated’ his business after bilking £32,000 over the course of two years.

Price, 37, of Pontypool, was sentenced to 15 months in jail after swindling her former employer soon after starting her role in 2014 as office manager at the garden centre. ??Nuhu Gobir, prosecuting, said Price diverted cash to her personal bank account by creating a web false supplier accounts and invoices. She also doubled her own wage payments between December 2015 and September 2017.

The court heard Price’s fraud only came to light when she was admitted to hospital, and the owner took over the finances whilst Price was off sick with a bad back.

She admitted she started to con her boss after falling into £2,000 catalogue debt after racking up large bills whilst shopping.

In a victim impact statement, Mr McDonald revealed how Price had been ‘a trusted member of staff’ and that the fraud had left him ‘personally devastated’

“I completely relied upon her and trusted her. This has devastated us as a business.

“We were looking to expand but we are not now in a position to take the business forward as quickly as we would have liked,” he said.

“She completely betrayed my trust in a family business which has been trading for 60 years.”

The court also heard how Abergavenny Garden Centre will be unable to reclaim the financial loss on insurance or from the bank.

Owen Williams, mitigating for Price, who had no previous convictions, said she was a “caring mother” to a seven-year-old daughter.

He added she had tendered an early guilty plea and made full admissions to detectives and that she “is truly ashamed for what she has done”.

In sentencing, Judge Tom Crowther QC said: “This was not a faceless corporation you betrayed, but a small business.

“You began your offending when you were in debt but once that was cleared, you couldn’t resist taking more.”

The judge told Price she would serve half of her 15-month sentence in prison before being released on licence.??