A WOMAN who stole nearly £156,000 from a Hampshire company and lied about a heart attack to avoid the courts has been jailed.

Joanna Brooks, 42, from Gosport caused family-run business CA Automotive Technology Ltd to go into liquidation because of the fraud.

She had become a trusted employee and friend to owners Roy and Laura Carvalho and had been given the responsibility of paying suppliers.

But when given blank cheques to do so, she transferred money into her own account instead.

Brooks pleaded guilty to the fraud in August - but claimed she had chest pains when she was due to be sentenced in September.

Last month she sent a letter to the court claiming she was due to have cardiac surgery and would need six weeks to recover.

But the lies caught up with Brooks when inquiries with hospitals revealed that she was not due to have surgery.

She was arrested and has now been handed five-and-a-half years in jail by a judge at Portsmouth Crown Court.

Prosecutor Martyn Booth said the theft had had “devastating repercussions” for Mr and Mrs Carvalho.

He said: “They have seen their company of 20 years going into liquidation and will have to sell their house because of the fraudulent activities of an employee that they trusted and considered as a friend.

“The administrative officer would often spend hundreds of pounds in high street stores and spent thousands of pounds on foreign holidays for her and others, including one holiday to Barbados in the Caribbean.

“Analysis of her bank account showed that she was making large cash withdrawals on a regular basis as well as spending money on luxury items.

“All of this was happening whilst Mr and Mrs Carvalho were tightening their belt significantly to cater for their failing business.

“The combined effect of this fraud was to prove disastrous for them. The company that they had spent so long building and operating suffered serious financial difficulties.

“Mr and Mrs Carvalho spent their life savings in an attempt to keep the company afloat, but ultimately their efforts were in vain.

“The company went into liquidation, leaving them without a source of income and without any savings to fall back upon.”

The sentence was given to Brooks for offences of fraud and failing to surrender to bail.