The High Court has ordered the wife of Lee Horton, the former sports editor of The People, to repay Â£128,910 she received in payments made to her through an elaborate, long-term fraud.
Horton worked for the paper from 1992 to 2008, when the fraud was discovered, and according to Mr Justice Tugendhat the total of illicit payments made in that period could amount to more than Â£370,000.
The paper had sued Teresa Horton for the return of money she admitted receiving. She has been ordered that she should repay it with interest.
The Hortons had married in 1985. From around 1989, she worked at a florists she set up with her husband called Wymans Bloomin’ Lovely.
The judge said : “Between 11 October 2000 and 8 August 2008 Mr Horton dishonestly procured the payment by the claimant to various accounts held or controlled by himself, by Mrs Horton, and by friends and relatives of theirs, of a total sum of at least Â£371,880.
“By her solicitors’ letter dated 2 June 2009 Mrs Horton has admitted that payments totaling Â£128,910 were made to accounts in the name of the florist business, and in different versions of her married and maiden names.”
However, the judge said he did not consider she had been frank with the court.
He said: “She first gave the description of herself as the unquestioning wife who signed blank cheques to her husband eight years ago, in circumstances which she cannot now remember.
“In the period of a year or more before Mr Horton’s dismissal she accepts she wrote out cheques to herself, which were paid into her own account, sometimes by herself personally going to the bank. But she gives no explanation of why she did this, or of what made her think that there would be money in the Wymans account, or where it might have come from. The business had been closed for many years by this time.
“These two descriptions of her activities are not reconcilable. In the early years it was perhaps just credible that Mrs Horton might have overpaid money to her from his salary, and might have asked her to pay back the excess from time to time.
“But Mr Horton is a woman who earned her own living before being married, and carried on the florist business for a number of years after she married. She is not an incapable person. I do not believe she failed to notice that the payments to her husband could not continue to be explained by erroneous overpayments out of his salary.
“Nor could there be any good reason for Mr Horton to pay money from his salary into the Wymans account, and then for her to have to write cheques to herself in order to transfer it into her own account. Either she actually knew what was happening, or she closed her eyes to the obvious fact that Mr Horton was engaged in money-laundering.”