Chef Stephen Terry's restaurant hit by £150,000 fraud
A top chef who featured on TV's Great British Menu was swindled out of £150,000 by a married couple working at his restaurant, a court heard.
Chef Stephen Terry, 55, who was Gordon Ramsay's best man, employed office administrator Nicola Nightingale, 47, at his Hardwick restaurant in Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, before she stole thousands of pounds from the business.
A court heard she convinced the chef to allow her husband Simon Nightingale, 50, to work shifts when the Hardwick was busy.
But she then paid her husband a total of £46,741.57 in bogus payments after having control of the company finances.
Terry discovered that two loans had been taken out in his name for £40,000 each that he had never approved. He also found money was owed on business rates, PAYE and VAT and there was a £10,000 shortfall in the pension pot.
The chef, who was taught by Marco Pierre White, said Mr Nightingale helped at the pass.
He said: "He would come in to help with service for maximum four hours tops. We thought Simon was coming in to help us out and doing us a favour."
Cardiff Crown Court heard Terry became suspicious of the finances shortly before the pandemic lockdown was announced in March 2020.
He said he experienced a "that's odd moment" when he spotted that Mrs Nightingale had the company's bank account on an app on her phone.
Terry said: "I thought that's strange. I didn't even have that at the time. I was surprised she would check out my business account on her own personal account."
The court heard Terry checked CCTV at the restaurant where he saw "aloof" Mrs Nightingale leaving with a large bag she hadn't arrived with.
He checked through the business bank statements to discover bogus invoices to companies called Sage and Flying Fish.
The jury heard he never questioned the couple's "lavish lifestyle" because he believed they had income outside of the restaurant shifts.
He said: "I think it took Nicola about four weeks to start taking money from us from when she started. She didn't hang about."
Mrs Nightingale pleaded guilty to fraud - but her husband, of Gilwern near Abergavenny, is facing trial for acquiring criminal property.
Prosecutor Thomas Stanway said: "Mrs Nightingale fraudulently took money from the restaurant and she paid it into a number of bank accounts of hers and her husband."
The court heard Mrs Nightingale resigned from the restaurant into March 2020 just after the first lockdown was announced.
Her husband was interviewed by police where he gave a prepared statement saying he worked at the restaurant.
Stanway said: "He gave a prepared statement. He effectively placed the blame on his wife. He said she had access to his account.
"He stated [that] he worked at the Hardwick restaurant and his wages didn't go through the books."
The court heard Mr Nightingale was paid the money between May 2018 and February 2020.
The trial, expected to last three days, continues at Cardiff Crown Court.