Estate Agency Worker Who Stole Almost £200,000 Narrowly Escapes Jail

An estate agent worker who stole close to £200,000 to fund a gambling habit has narrowly avoided an immediate jail sentence.

Ryan Freeman, of Ponteland, let his employers at Jan Forster estate agents in Ponteland down when it emerged that over the course of four years, he made 266 fraudulent transactions into his own account to bankroll his out-of-control gambling addiction

Freeman, who worked for the estate agency since the age of 16, admitted theft and false accounting and was given a suspended prison sentence at Newcastle Crown Court.

Freeman began working for the company in 2014 and remained there until he was caught stealing money in 2021.

Routine checks revealed discrepancies and it transpired that he had been transferring company profits to his personal HSBC account. The money was purportedly going to a landlord, but it was a dormant account which Freeman had added his bank account details to. In total he stole £195,499.61.

In June last year he was suspended and faced disciplinary proceedings but emailed the agency and confessed to stealing the money, before quitting.

The court heard that his parents repaid £40,000 and a further £1,500 a month is being paid back by standing order, with the current outstanding figure £130,312.

In a victim impact statement, joint owner Jan Forster said: “From employing him as a 16-year-old local boy we gave him an opportunity to grow and progress with the business and put him through an administrative apprenticeship and through an accountancy qualification.

“He was promoted to a position of trust and it was not long after that this the crime first occurred. We have had to pay back money from our own savings to keep the business operational and this has affected our finances as a company and personally.

“We have not lived a lavish lifestyle and have put every penny into the business. His actions resulted in our mental wellbeing being affected substantially, with thoughts of the business potentially folding and we had sleepless nights.

“We had to change our business model as a result of this, which cost us a lot of time and money. We have put future plans to expand the business on hold and have even had to close a branch, which we would not have done otherwise.

“Not only do we feel embarrassed and ashamed, we feel completely let down by him and feel he has shown no remorse. We have absolutely no doubt had he not been caught, the crime would have been ongoing, potentially amounting to unthinkable amounts of money.”

Freeman, 25, of Fox Covert Lane, Ponteland, Northumberland, pleaded guilty to theft and false accounting. Recorder Mark Giuliani sentenced him to two years suspended for two years with 250 hours unpaid work.

Brian Hegarty, defending, said: “He was quite a lowly employee and this was not a sophisticated offence. He didn’t create the account that was used, it was an existing account and the rented property was no longer rented out. The defendant identified that and entered his own account details.

“He has wasted all of it. He was consumed by a gambling addiction which took him over. He didn’t live an extravagant lifestyle, he was simply stealing money in order to gamble.”

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