FOR four years Fiona Senior and Diane Lathlean shared everything that best friends do.

Weekends would be spent with friends at the theatre or in the pub with their partners.

Like any other friendship it was about give and take; it was a friendship based on trust. But that trust was shattered when Diane began to take advantage of her best friend’s good nature and her livelihood, almost causing Fiona and her husband, Paul, to divorce.

In 2008, Fiona and Paul moved to Ampleforth with their two children, 13-year-old Eleanor and 11-year-old Jenifer, to take over Ampleforth Stores. They inherited three members of staff, including Diane, and the pair quickly formed a firm friendship as the 50-year-old mother of three showed the couple the ropes.

“She was a tremendous help because she knew the shop inside out from working with the previous owners and we were new to the business so we learnt a lot from her,” Fiona said.

Fiona, 48, and Paul, 45, put their trust in Diane to help run the successful business and asked her to take on more responsibility and work in the Post Office as well.

“She was doing a lot more than other members of staff were,” Fiona said. “She had more duties and a lot more responsibilities.”

However, as Fiona and Paul spent time running the business, Diane was sailing around Hawaii and the Mediterranean on luxury cruises. While the couple spent time raising their two children, the eldest of whom has a rare genetic disorder known as Prader Willi syndrome – Diane was at the salon enjoying beauty treatments and while Fiona and Paul tried to work out profits and loss, Diane was cheering on Tottenham Hotspur at football matches thanks to her season ticket, all at the expense of her best friend.

“For 18 months I suspected her,” Paul said, as he recalls watching the CCTV footage from the cameras they had installed in 2012 as part of a refurbishment.

“We were absolutely shocked. It was all of our problems in a nut shell. It caused a lot of problems between us and to be honest at one point we were close to divorce.”

The footage showed the former shop worker walking around the shop putting food items in to a bag, often looking directly at the CCTV camera.

“When she was on holiday the takings would be up and then when she was back at work we would be back to square one,” said Paul.

As well as being forced to sell their car and put all of their extra cash back into the business just to keep it afloat, Diane’s actions taking tens of thousands of pounds worth of stock left the couple suffering more than just financial difficulties. When Paul suspected Diane, Fiona was reluctant to believe that her best friend could deceive them in such a way.

Paul was also forced to take a second jobwhere he set up his own sweeping business in a bid to climb out of the financial crisis they had been thrown in to.

Fiona said: “We put £43,000 into the business to keep it afloat. I didn’t want to believe that my friend could do such a thing and I am sorry to Paul for not believing him.

“One night the four of us slept in the lounge just to keep warm because we couldn’t afford to have the heating on when we needed to.

“It’s not about the money anymore, though, we just want her to say sorry and say that she is guilty because she has never apologised to us.”

Paul added: “It would have affected everyone if the shop had shut down. There are a lot of people who depend on the shop and it is the heart of the village. Diane nearly took all of that away.”

Despite the turmoil the family has had to endure, they are proud to say that they, along with the business, are now stronger than before.

Fiona said: “We have turned around as a family. Even when you didn’t think that you were stressed over the past three years, you realise now that you were because now that all of the stress has gone you actually feel good. We are different people.”

Paul added: “It is a fully functioning business again now which is how it always should have been. We are stronger as a family now too.”


Village post thief lived a life of luxury

A SHOP assistant enjoyed luxury cruises, beauty treatments and Premiership football trips after stealing thousands of pounds from her friend and boss.

Diane Lathlean, 50, sailed round Hawaii, the Bahamas and the Mediterranean and spent Christmas in California, while postmistress Fiona Senior and her family struggled to make ends meet.

Mum-of-three Lathlean, a part-time shelf stacker and counter assistant, was employed for 14-and-a-half hours a week at the post office and village shop in Ampleforth, for £6.10 an hour.

She was found guilty of stealing £3,050 worth of stock between 2008 and 2012 at Scarborough Magistrates’ Court last Tuesday.

Mrs Senior, 48, refused to believe her best friend was to blame. But her husband Paul, 45, became suspicious when “appalling” takings flourished after Lathlean booked herself on a three-week voyage to Panama, magistrates were told.

Lathlean had worked in the shop under the store’s previous owners, who had also struggled to make ends meet, he said.

The court heard Lathlean knew most of the people in the village and had served them for more than 20 years – yet her new bosses said they “seemed to struggle from day one” in turning a profit.

By 2012, local businesses – seeing the store was getting run down – clubbed together to pay for a refurbishment, which included CCTV. ‎When Mr Senior checked the footage, he was amazed to see Lathlean wandering around the empty shop slipping groceries in her bag or dropping them into a drawer to retrieve later.

When he confronted her and offered to show her the footage she replied: “I’m really sorry for you if you think I’m stealing from you.”

‎Later, she dropped a note through the door of the couple’s flat above the shop offering to repay £3,050 for missing stock – and grumpily returned her overalls saying, “You can stick your job”.

Mr Senior told the court he believed the true loss was more like £50,000 and he had long suspected his employee had been stealing.‎‎ Lathlean, of Geldgate, Ampleforth, will be sentenced at York Crown Court in January, after magistrates said their six-month maximum sentence was not enough.

‎After the verdict, the court heard Lathlean had already repaid the Seniors £3,050 for the stock and there was therefore no claim for compensation.

‎Documents were also revealed by the Seniors showing they had received a £28,000 settlement for alleged theft of money and goods by Lathlean in a previous civil case.

The civil settlement was not disclosed for legal reasons to the magistrates, who were told the alleged cash discrepancies had been investigated by police and the Post Office, who had decided to take no further action.‎