A COUPLE who swindled a top chef and his business out of £150,000 to pay for luxury holidays have been ordered to pay back just £1 each in compensation.
A Proceeds of Crime Hearing at Cardiff Crown Court heard that Nicola and Simon Nightingale had no realisable assets to pay back Stephen Terry and his award-winning Hardwick restaurant.
The celebrity chef, who was best man at close friend Gordon Ramsay’s wedding, was furious after both escaped immediate jail terms for their scam last May, which he discovered after the Covid pandemic hit and his restaurant between Raglan and Abergavenny had to close.
He described their suspended jail terms as an “absolute joke” and stormed that their swindle had almost sunk his business, causing him, his family and employees great stress.
“They had holidays we could have only dreamed of and all of a sudden you find out you’re paying for it. For them to result in getting a suspended sentence is a travesty,” he said at the time.
“We have managed to survive by the skin of our teeth but we’re still repaying debt.”
This week’s hearing heard that mother-of-five Nicola Nightingale took the cash while looking after Mr Terry’s books from February 2018 to February 2020, and spent some of it on lavish Disneyland holidays in Florida and France, and trips to Morocco.
She defrauded the restaurant of £150,234 via payments to her account, inflating wages, and raising sums disguised as fake wages and invoices, including 55 unauthorised payments into her husband’s bank account totalling £46,741.
Nightingale, now living in Deal, Kent, left the restaurant owing suppliers £70,000 and £6,000 in business rates.
She also left the company owing £110,000 in PAYE and VAT, and the pension fund with a £10,000 shortfall.
But the POC hearing heard that a “thorough” probe into the couple’s finances - who were living in Gilwern at the time of the scam - couldn’t find any assets, and the prosecutor asked for nominal £1 confiscation orders to be made.
Nicola Nightingale, 47, admitted a charge of fraud by abuse of position earlier this year, while 50-year-old Simon Nightingale was found guilty of acquiring criminal property following a trial.
Susan Ferrier, representing the wife at the POC hearing, who appeared with her husband by video link, said she was a mother-of-five and a grandmother who suffered “extreme problems with alcoholism”.
Making awards of £1, Judge Shomon Khan said: “There has been a lot of interest in his case but there has been a thorough investigation and that’s where we are in terms of the recoverable amount and this is as far as the courts can take it.”
At the sentencing hearing in May, Mr Terry said in a victim impact statement he had been “left with debts” when the restaurant was closed due to Covid, and had to “take out loans in order to repay them”.
“Over the past 15 years I have worked extremely hard to build a successful business. We have worked well with local suppliers and had strong working relationships,” he said.
“The impact of being defrauded of such a significant amount of money is potentially devastating.
“It has no doubt damaged our reputation and working relationships.
“And had it not been for the unprecedented pandemic I am not certain I would have been aware of the fraud and the business would not have survived the financial loss.”
Mr Terry trained under Marco Pierre White and has run Michelin-starred restaurants,.
He opened his award-winning gastropub in 2005 and was chef for the Nato summit banquet at Celtic Manor in 2014, attended by 60 of the world’s leaders, including then US president Barack Obama, and has starred regularly on TV shows like Great British Menu and James Martin’s Saturday Morning.
His restaurant was named top gastro-pub in Wales last year in the Estrella Damm awards, and has won numerous other plaudits.