Model Erin O’Connor’s personal assistant was spared a jail sentence today after admitting stealing thousands of pounds from her boss to fund her own lavish lifestyle.
Michelle Knox-Brown, 46, abused her position to pay for holidays to Morocco, India, Spain and America using the Marks & Spencer model’s credit card.
Kingston Crown Court heard that the three-year fraud had left O’Connor “doubting herself” and “tampered with her outlook and ability to trust others”.
Knox-Brown, of Glyn Road, Clapton, east London, showed no emotion as she was given a 40-week suspended prison sentence and ordered to do 200 hours’ unpaid community work.
Judge Andrew Campbell said Knox-Brown, who was paid more than £45,000 a year for the three-and-a-half-days-a-week job, had “let Miss O’Connor down very badly”.
She had pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud at an earlier hearing, which included stealing £10,251 and spending £1,607 on taxis.
Prosecutor Jonathan Polnay said the fraud involved hundreds of transactions, and the agreed total of just under £12,000 was “conservative” and “the true figure may be somewhat higher”.
The court heard that she was given access to the model’s personal information and bank accounts.
In May 2007, soon after she was hired, she began to splash out on purchases for herself. Armed with the pin number to O’Connor’s HSBC card, she set off on exotic holidays, withdrawing cash while she was abroad to finance the trips.
Travel to and from the airport was often by taxi, always charged to O’Connor’s tab. Cars were also used on journeys to work and nights out with friends.
She was able to get away with the scam because the bills were paid automatically by direct debit, and Knox-Brown herself passed the paperwork direct to O’Connor’s accountants.
While the 33-year-old model was on catwalks across the globe, her employee went on a spending spree in London’s West End, including John Lewis, Zara, Top Shop and Office. She withdrew £1,500 cash in a two-week period.
The fraudster also used the card to pay for a £200 dress from designer FrostFrench, a £285 hand basin which was delivered to her flat, and bills at the exclusive Shoreditch House private members’ club.
Knox-Brown’s operation paid for a friend’s hen party in Brighton, VIP tickets and £400 spending money to the Isle of Wight music event Bestival, and hundreds of pounds of parking fines, even though the 6ft model did not drive.
The scam was only brought to a halt in February 2010 when O’Connor became suspicious of the taxi bills.
“Miss O’Connor and her partner spent days and days and days trying to piece together the fraud that had been perpetrated on her,” Mr Polnay told the court.
He added: “Effectively Miss O’Connor turned detective.”
She prepared a victim impact statement which was given to the judge to consider.
“It may not have been personal for the defendant, but it was for her,” Mr Polnay said.
He described how the crime has “left her doubting herself, and has tampered with her outlook and ability to trust others in the way that she once trusted her (Knox-Brown)”.