AN Altrincham firm was targeted by two women who transferred more than £138,000 out of their business account.

Natalie Johnston, aged 39, was charged with stealing £122,265.35 from property and development firm Fortis Group.

Tanya Drinkwater, aged 35, was sentenced at Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court today for a single count of fraud committed while employed at the firm.

Drinkwater, of Sparkford Avenue, Manchester, who was the head of accounts at the time, pleaded guilty to the charge.

Johnston, of Waverley Road, Swinton, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud by abuse of her position. She is due to be sentenced on Friday, April 26.

The women were accused of transferring money from Fortis accounts into a number of bank accounts in their own names, though it could not be proved that they were conspiring with each other.

The prosecution said: "The modus operandi was for the supplier bank details on the account system to be changed so it would look as though, for instance on a cursory look at the list of transactions, that money was being put to, for instance British Gas, but in fact the account details were changed so they were those of one or other of the defendants' personal bank accounts."

A total of £16,516.21 went into Drinkwater's account between December 2015 and December 2016, and £122,265.35 went into any one of six accounts belonging to accounts assistant Johnston, between September 2015 and February 2017.

The company's suspicions were aroused. On December 23, Drinkwater emailed Fortis to say "I know what I have done is majorly wrong. I'm sincerely sorry. My husband left me in a huge amount of debt, I was completely desperate."

The court heard that she transferred £5,260 back to the company after being dismissed.

Sentencing Drinkwater, Judge Angela Nield said: "You are to all intents and purposes an individual of previous good character.

"This is an offence which I accept is out of character. Nevertheless it is a serious matter. This was a fraud committed when you were in a position of significant responsibility as a manager dealing with the accounts and considerable freedom to move that money about.

"It was expected that you would do so appropriately and properly but you breached that significant level of trust and diverted the large amount of money into your own account. I can see it was not a sophisticated offence though efforts were made to conceal it.

"While fraud is often thought to be a victimless crime, it never is. Someone ultimately does suffer.

"I have read about the factors from your past which have impacted upon you. Little service would be done by sending you to an immediate custodial sentence.

"Taking all the circumstances into account I'm minded to suspend your sentence."

Drinkwater received a suspended 12-month prison sentence and told she must not commit any offences in the UK in the next 18 months.

She was also given a rehabilitation activity requirement of 35 days, given an activities requirement, and 150 hours of unpaid community work.

Following dismissal from Fortis Group, Johnston took up employment at Tottington Motor Company, from where she is also accused of stealing £46,851.43.

Johnston's defence of the fraud was that it meant she could "treat her son" who she believed would be taken away from her "when she was convicted" for the theft from Fortis.