Streaks of mascara ran down my face, as I sat at my desk, my head in my hands.
‘Can I get you a cup of tea?’ asked a kind voice. ‘Or a cuddle?’
I looked up to see my best friend, June Watson.
I tried to swallow my tears, but it was hard. My eldest son, Ben, had died 15 years earlier from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, aged just 15.
He’d only been diagnosed with the disease three and a half weeks before his death and it shattered our family.
My two other sons, Lee, then 12, and Sam, nine, and my ex-husband, Kevin, had all struggled to cope.
At first, we’d been unable to even think about burying his ashes, so I’d given them to my mum to look after.
She was retired and at home all day, and it gave us some comfort to know that Ben wasn’t on his own.
But now we’d finally begun to make plans for a burial spot and headstone.
Each week, I’d meet with the rest of the family at the funeral directors, so that we could choose the wording and the photos. It was a heart-rending process.
After each meeting, I’d come back to the office in tears. I was glad to have June.
We had known each other for years socially, before she came to work in my family business in our accounts department.
Sitting opposite each other in the office, sharing the same desk, we’d chat all day.
We went on nights out, to the races and even on holiday together.
On July 17, 2015 – the 16th anniversary of Ben’s death – I said my final goodbye and buried my boy.
It was devastating.
At work, June gradually took over the accounts side of the business while I continued as manager. She introduced a complicated accounting system which she ran very well.
At the start of 2016, June announced she was getting married to her partner Martin.
I was so excited about her big day.
A few months later, I decided to take on some more clients.
Business was good and I made an appointment to call the bank, to discuss our borrowing terms.
On that same morning, June called in sick.
Later that morning, the bank phoned.
‘The business is really healthy,’ I said to the manager. ‘I’m very pleased.’
There was an awkward silence.
‘I’m afraid you’re mistaken,’ he replied.
The business was more than $150,000 overdrawn.
‘That’s not right!’ I said. ‘Can you check again?’
‘Check your accounts,’ he insisted. ‘I’ll call you back.’
Quickly, I pulled out our files and divided them between the staff to check.
But with June off sick, it was hard to know what to look at first.
I called June but she didn’t answer. Then the bank manager called me back.
‘There’s a string of cash withdrawals on your business debit card,’ he said. ‘Did you know about those?’
My heart did a somersault.
It was only me – and June – who had access to the debit cards.
My heart thudding, I called June again and again. But she dumped all my calls.
I realised that June – my best friend – had been stealing from me right under my nose.
Some days, she withdrew around $1400 and put it straight into her own account.
To my disgust, I discovered she had stolen from me throughout the months I had been choosing Ben’s headstone.
While I had been swamped with grief, she had been helping herself to my money.
I checked July 17, 2015 – the day we buried Ben’s ashes. She had stolen from me that day too.
Going to see June, I confronted her. She just shrugged.
‘You’re not the person I thought you were,’ I said quietly, and I left.
Then I reported her to the police. Officers revealed June had stolen almost half a million dollars from me.
She had drained the business completely, stealing – sometimes daily – between February 2011 and June 2016.
I was left penniless. My youngest son was living at home and he offered to help me out with bills, while my friends even brought me food parcels.
I felt humiliated. For six months, I worked hard, for no wages, to try to build the business up again.
But it wasn’t easy. I couldn’t work out what on earth she had done with such a huge sum of money.
June’s fiancé told me that she would often buy drinks for everyone in the pub. She also had jewellery and a designer handbag.
In January this year, June Elizabeth Watson, 50, was jailed for four and a half years after being found guilty of two counts of theft, during a five-day trial.
In September, June appeared at a proceeds of crime hearing, where Judge Andrew Jefferies QC ordered her to pay $44,000 or face another 12 months in prison.
To find out that she had been stealing from us, all through the trauma of burying my son’s ashes, was a huge shock.
I’ve been betrayed, cheated and lied to by a woman I trusted and sat next to every day for five years. But I’ve survived much worse than this.
And I won’t let a scumbag like June Watson drag me down. ●