A Tayside wedding planner who defrauded almost 40 brides or bridegrooms out of more than £130,000 has been jailed for 30 months.
Craig Williamson, former castle and estate manager at Guthrie Castle near Forfar, was told by Sheriff Alastair Carmichael that he had committed a “despicable” crime which had left couples uncertain over whether their weddings could go ahead and had caused a successful business to end.
Williamson had previously admitted that he had induced the bridal parties to pay thousands of pounds each into his personal bank account before running off with the money to Ibiza where he spent much of the money on gambling.
The case was deferred last month for background reports and Williamson appeared from custody today to hear his fate.
Depute fiscal Eilidh Robertson told the court that Williamson’s job was to be in charge of all events at the castle receiving deposits and later payments and arranging the bookings.
However, the court heard he failed to tell staff of many of these bookings, pocketing the deposits and in some cases full payments.
Staff became suspicious when in April this year he told colleagues he was going to see his father in Glasgow but they were worried when they were unable to contact him a week later.
On April 20 the wife of the castle’s owner, Daniel Penna, and another member of staff accessed Williamson’s email account and became aware that a Miss Cannon and her fiancé had booked their wedding which was due to take place the following week. However staff were unaware of that.
Williamson meanwhile had withdrawn £6,000 in cash from his own account and travelled by Eurostar to Paris and then on to Ibiza where he frittered thousands of pounds away in casinos, including spending £5,000 in one night alone.
In total Ms Robertson said 39 bridal parties had paid around £130,000 over the period. It’s thought, however, that others who were also involved are still to be contacted, some of whom live abroad.
The court was told that some weddings were able to go ahead but were paid for by Mr Penna out of his own pocket.
He had also refunded some of the payments to others while other weddings were able to be rescheduled.
Mr Penna, the fiscal said, believes that the total cost to himself will exceed £130,000 which will place him in severe financial difficulty.
Some of the weddings were booked as far ahead as August 2019 and one wedding alone had been triple-booked by Williamson.
The court was told Williamson handed himself in to police on May 8 after widespread publicity.
Solicitor Billy Rennie said there had been the earliest attempts to resolve the case and added that although there was mention in the social work report of a lack of empathy on his part, he said it was due to Williamson being resigned to his fate, “inevitably a period of imprisonment”.
He added that this was the biggest job Williamson had ever had and the pressures of that, in addition to his gambling debts, resulted in him succumbing to temptation and defrauding the customers.
Sheriff Carmichael told Williamson that due to his early plea he would discount the sentence from what would have been 45 months to a period of 30 months.
However he told him: “I don’t accept you did not plan this fraud, you perpetrated it over two years and it only came to light because you were in absentia from your work and your employers investigated.
“This was a despicable crime, taking money from people who paid you in good faith.”
He added that as a result of the crime, “jobs have been lost, a successful business of 12 years standing has been closed down and couples were left in doubt over their weddings.”