A baker has been jailed for defrauding friends out of thousands of pounds and tricking customers with "freshly baked bread" that had actually been warmed on radiators.
Francesca Barker-Mills opened the The Barker Baker in Littleborough, Rochdale, in 2015 in a bid to show authorities she was turning her life around.
She claimed to have "fallen in love with baking" on a probation course and convinced potential investors, including her friends, into putting thousands of pounds into the store, Manchester Evening News reports.
The 32-year-old told people she was involved in a government-run "matched funding scheme" and told investors their money "would double" if they took part.
At a sentencing hearing at Minshull Street Crown Court, it was heard Baker-Mills would take the cash and persuade them to invest even more money.
She would then delay payment even further by sending screenshots of what appeared to be her bank account with more than £100,000 in it.
The screenshots were meant to be "proof" she could pay out, and went as far as to say she had scored a £40,000 contract to star in a BBC documentary.
Barker-Mills also told potential investors she had been given "council money" to teach children in schools how to bake, and an £8,000 contract with Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.
Prosecutor James Preece told the court the money would never arrive in the hands of investors, leading them to realise she had been swindled.
She was then reported to by police but by the time she was prosecuted, the con had defrauded four people from 2015 to 2017 – including one couple – into giving her more than £60,000 in total.
One claimant told the court Barker-Mills not only defrauded him but conned customers into believing wholesale bread was freshly baked.
He told the court Barker-Mills would "warm it on the radiator" to convince shoppers it had just come out of the oven.
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It was also claimed Barker-Mills “bullied” her employee into loaning her thousands for a holiday, saying that “she was depressed” and “needed some time away.”
The employee was then driven to attempted suicide after she landed herself into £6,000 worth of debt.
Barker-Mills former employee said: “The impact of this crime has been massive for me.
“I was up £4,300 and only ever received back about £100 from Francesca. Now I’m missing about £6,000 plus.
“It took me a year to clear the debt I had which was difficult because I am a low-wage earner. It made me feel suicidal… I took an overdose as a result.”
Barker-Mills pleaded guilty to four counts of fraud and Julian Goode, defending, argued that Barker-Mills should receive a suspended sentence, saying that she could be “rehabilitated” in the community.
Her Honour Judge Sophie McKone disagreed however and said the offending caused such a high level of harm there as no option but to jail her.
Sentencing her to 27 months behind bars, Judge McKone said: “You are a thoroughly dishonest woman who made up a scheme to defraud people.
"Cynically, you portrayed yourself as someone who had turned their life around – that was your unique selling point to entice people into investing in your business, saying you were an honest baker but you were actually far from it."
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