Billionaire philanthropist Dame Stephanie Shirley’s PA appears in court after stealing £75,000 and splashing out on holidays, dog exercise equipment and bras – but says ‘she’s not a bad person’ and exposed ‘flaw’ in payments system
- Ljubica Firth, 61, stole £75,000 from her boss, Dame Stephanie Shirley, 88
- Firth used her position as PA to buy holidays, clothes, dog equipment and bras
- She was £21,000 in debt, but did not commit fraud to ‘put food on [her] table’
- Firth has been given a two year prison sentence, suspended for two years
- Court orders 30 rehabilitation days, 200hrs unpaid work and six-month curfew
The personal assistant to a philanthropist billionaire Dame stole £75,000 from her in a bank card fraud — to buy holidays, clothes, dog equipment and bras, a court heard.
Ljubica Firth’s two-year splurge saw her make 229 separate purchases — worth a total of £5,074 — on Amazon.
It included ladies’ brassieres, sports gear, clothes and ‘dog exercise equipment’, Oxford Crown Court heard.
The 61-year-old from Drayton bought a £2,000 Virgin Atlantic holiday and also transferred more than £66,000 to her PayPal account.
Dame Stephanie Shirley (above), 88, had £75,000 stolen from her by her personal assistant, Ljubica Firth, 61
The money belonged to her boss, Dame Stephanie Shirley, 88, an entrepreneur, philanthropist and information technology pioneer.
She built a £2 billion tech empire in the 1960s using an all female staff who had left the work force after marrying and having children.
Dame Stephanie is said to have pioneered the idea of women going back to work after a career break.
Firth stole thousands of pounds using her employer’s Barclaycard, the court heard.
Her spree was uncovered in July 2019 when Dame Stephanie’s company Barclaycard was used to buy a computer printer.
It was delivered to Firth’s Oxfordshire home.
At the time, Firth apologised to Dame Stephanie claiming she’d done it by mistake, and wrote a cheque to cover the £351 printer.
The accountant for Dame Stephanie’s charity, the Shirley Foundation, reviewed the Barclaycard transactions — unearthing hundreds of unauthorised payments.
Between August 2017 and July 2019, Firth was found to have made 141 transfers to her own PayPal account totalling £66,192.
She used the card to spend £5,074 on Amazon purchases, bought a £526 Ryanair flight to Italy in September 2018, and spent £2,099 on a Virgin Atlantic flight to America for what she described as the ‘holiday of a lifetime’ in August 2019.
Firth spent £522 on cycling clothing and helmets from online retailer Wiggle and bought clothes worth £583 from fashion website Lux Fix.
The total value of the fraud was just under £75,000.
Dame Stephanie built a £2 billion tech empire in the 1960s using an all female staff who had left the work force after marrying and having children
Dame Stephanie’s PA acknowledged that she abused her trust. Above, Dame Stephanie signs a copy of her memoir, Let It Go: My Extraordinary Story – From Refugee to Entrepreneur to Philanthropist, at Henley Literary Festival
The PA, who had started working for Dame Stephanie in 2015 and was paid a £35,000 annual salary, was dismissed for gross misconduct in August 2019.
She later sent a letter to the entrepreneur acknowledging she abused her trust but suggested she’d exposed a ‘flaw’ in the payments system.
She wrote that she was not a bad person and hoped Dame Stephanie and her husband could forgive her before wishing the couple the ‘best of health’, prosecutor Robert Lindsey said.
Thames Valley Police raided her home later in 2019, uncovering the items purchased.
Having been interviewed by the police, Firth wrote a letter to her former employer in October 2019 apologising again.
She asked Dame Stephanie to consider dropping the criminal proceedings in favour of a civil case.
The matter was not dropped and she was interviewed again in 2020, when again she answered no comment to questions put to her.
In a personal statement read to the court, Dame Stephanie said of the fraud by her former employee ‘Lou Lou’: ‘It was because she was so trusted the shock was so great.’
She said her husband, Derek, 95, suffered a ‘heart irregularity’ the day after they learnt of the fraud.
Mitigating, Nawaz Khan told the court that his client had struggled with spiralling debts after the breakdown of her relationship and after her pension company walked off with her nest egg.
Despite the intervention of an advice organisation, her debts had doubled from £10,000 to £21,000.
She had initially taken the money intending to pay it back, the court heard.
The mum-of-two was ‘full of regret and contrition’. ‘Through me she apologises to Dame Stephanie and to the court,’ Mr Khan said.
‘She’s deeply sorry for her actions and the impact these [offences] have had upon Dame Stephanie and her family.’
Firth wrote two letters to her former boss, Dame Stephanie, (above) after she was dismissed for gross misconduct. She asked for forgiveness, and for Dame Stephanie to pursue a civil case, not criminal
Firth, of Abingdon Road, Drayton, pleaded guilty to six counts of fraud by false representation at Oxford Crown Court heard (above). File image
Firth, of Abingdon Road, Drayton, pleaded guilty to six counts of fraud by false representation.
Recorder Michael Roques imposed a two year prison sentence suspended for two years.
‘This is a decision that rests on a knife edge and the fact that your daughter is 17-years-old and not 18-years-old is what it came down to,’ he said.
Turning to the two letters the defendant wrote to Dame Stephanie, the judge said: ‘In the first letter you had the decency to apologise but then the temerity to say that if nothing else your actions had exposed a flaw in their current system, a flaw that would not have needed rectifying but for somebody grossly abusing the trust that had been placed in them.
‘The second letter you wrote amounts in my view to a flagrant attempt to emotionally blackmail Dame Stephanie into not pursuing this allegation, telling her that you were arrested on your daughter’s 15th birthday, that continuing with this action [would] render you homeless and your daughter would go into care, stating quite erroneously that you were not a criminal.
‘You blame your financial situation on your clouded judgement and the debt that you were in.
‘But from what I can see the money you stole in this case was spent on holidays, clothes and sports equipment. None of it from what I can see was used to put food on your table.’
Firth must do up to 30 rehabilitation activity requirement days, 200 hours of unpaid work and abide by a six month curfew.
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