A SOUTH Tyneside lifestyle coach who defrauded Premier League footballer Peter Odemwingie and six other clients out of more than £80,000 has been spared jail.
Claire Duke, originally from Jarrow, was shown mercy by a judge at Stafford Crown Court after pledging to pay back tens of thousands of pounds to her victims.
The 38-year-old, whose business offered concierge services and organised holidays and trips abroad, pleaded guilty to seven counts of fraud, including one relating to Stoke City striker Odemwingie.
Passing sentence, Recorder David Mason, QC, accepted that Duke’s business had encountered difficulties and had not been set up or designed as a fraud from the outset.
Duke, of London Colney, Hertfordshire, sobbed in the dock as the judge told her: “You appear to be someone who, on the face of it, is terrified of the court’s powers, and accepting that, what you have done was appalling.
“You have pleaded guilty to seven matters of fraud involving professional, hard-working people wanting to spend money on holidays and treats.”
All the victims of the offences would no doubt be shocked and appalled that their money had been “shifted in different directions” by Duke, the judge said.
The offence committed against Odemwingie, whose previous clubs include West Bromwich Albion and Cardiff City, related to events between April and August 2012, and sums totalling about £22,000.
Recorder Mason told Duke: “Some of these people may have been wealthy, but that doesn’t make any difference. It’s their money.”
Duke, who was given a two-year custodial sentence suspended for two years, told reporters as she left the court that she was deeply sorry for the stress and upset she had caused.
“I would just like to pass on my sincere apologies to everyone,” she said.