An Aberdeen grandmother who swindled more than £1.5 million from a scrap metal business enjoyed expensive family holidays, bought new cars and caravans and set up savings accounts for her grandchildren.
Panda Rosa Metals employee Coleen Muirhead later admitted embezzling the money and told a colleague in a message: “Police have just raided! So I will need visitor in jail! Please don’t think the worst of me.”
When her colleague replied that she was totally confused, Muirhead told her: “Don’t be I have taken the money am so sorry.”
The court was told Muirhead’s crime was eventually uncovered after her extravagant lifestyle drew the attention of bosses at the firm.
Muirhead, 55, admitted embezzling £1,524,192.37 while employed at Panda Rosa Metals, of Canal Road, Aberdeen, between June 2015 and October 2021, when she appeared in the dock at the High Court in Edinburgh today.
Advocate depute David Dickson said: “Panda Rosa Metals is described as a company engaged in ‘ferrous and non-ferrous metal recycling’. It is owned and operated by the McAllister family.”
The prosecutor said the firm operated two sites in Aberdeen and Muirhead was based at its Canal Road operation. She began work with the firm as an administrative assistant in 2014.
Mr Dickson said scrap metal was brought to the sites by firms and individuals where it was weighed and a ticket produced which was then sent to staff who provided an advice note containing details of the material, weight and price.
Sellers then produced an invoice and on its receipt, the firm would instruct the transfer of funds.
Mr Dickson said: “The accused, together with two other administrative employees were allocated specific clients. They were each responsible for producing advice notes and dealing with the subsequent invoices.”
Expensive holidays raised suspicions of Panda Rosa Metals senior partner
The prosecutor said: “During the course of the years following the accused beginning employment with Panda Rosa, another employee who was responsible for instructing payment of the accused’s wages, became aware that Muirhead went on expensive holidays with her family, paid for a full table at a charity event, purchased alcohol for those attending the event, and bought new motor vehicles.”
“The accused also told her that she had paid for her son’s wedding, had purchased static caravans and had set up ISAs for her grandchildren,” he said.
Mr Dickson said a senior partner in the firm, Helen McAllister, reviewed company records and noticed that funds were down. Others thought this was due to the Covid pandemic but she was adamant something was not right.
She began looking for information on a customer named G Anderson who she had noted was a significant customer during a review of the books.
Mr Dickson said David McAllister senior confirmed he was not a customer at the firm’s Canal Road site and office staff were instructed to look for paperwork in relation to an account in that name.
They were unable to find any recent paperwork but found some advice notes in historical files. The advice notes had a reference number identifying Muirhead as producing the documentation.
David McAllister junior phoned Muirhead, who was on leave at the time, for information on G Anderson files. She told him where they were and asked him if she was in trouble.
Mr Dickson said on the evening of October 6 in 2021 Muirhead sent a Whatsapp message to a work colleague in which she asked the workmate to submit her resignation on her behalf.
Three days later she sent a further message in which she stated: “Hi just to let you know I have done Panda Rosa out of a lot of money. I was G Anderson.”
A check of bank details for G Anderson with Muirhead’s bank details found the sort code and account numbers matched. Muirhead’s house was searched while she was abroad.
Mr Dickson said: “The address was systematically searched during which documents in relation to credit cards, financial letters relating to the purchase of motor cars and motorcycles, documentation relating to ISAs for family members, £2,312 in cash, £3,300 in gift vouchers and documentation in relation to the purchase of two static caravans to the value of £78,077 were recovered.”
Prison ‘inevitable’ for Coleen Muirhead
First offender Muirhead, of Farquhar Road, Aberdeen, was later interviewed by police and admitted embezzling money from her employer and creating G Anderson.
The Crown indicated it intends to bring an action to seize the proceeds of crime from Muirhead.
Defence solicitor advocate Kris Gilmartin told the court: “It is acknowledged a custodial sentence is inevitable.”
The judge, Lord Fairley, called for a background report to be prepared on Muirhead ahead of sentencing. He agreed to continue bail after Mr Gilmartin said she had health difficulties and has an emergency appointment.