The wife of a former sport editor of the People whose husband made fraudulent payments to her through the paper has been ordered to repay £128,910.
However, in ordering Teresa Horton, to repay the money, Mr Justice Tugendhat said that the total number of illicit payments believed to have been made by her husband Lee Horton, who had worked for the paper from 1992 to 2008 was believed to run to £371,880.
The paper had sued Mrs Horton for return of money she admitted receiving and the judge ordered that she should repay it with interest.
He said that Lee Horton had, as sports editor, been in a position to authorise payments to individuals in respect of information received relating to stories.
He had married his wife in 1985 and after about four years she had started working in a florists shop called Wymans Bloomin Lovely, which she and her husband had set up.
The judge said : “That business continued until about 2003, when the lease expired and she stopped full time work. Meanwhile, in 1996 Mr and Mrs Horton had their first and only child. She will be 13 later this year.
“Between 11 October 2000 and 8 August 2008 Mr Horton dishonestly procured the payment by the claimant to various accounts held or controlled by himself, by Mrs Horton, and by friends and relatives of theirs, of a total sum of at least £371,880.
“By her solicitors’ letter dated 2 June 2009 Mrs Horton has admitted that payments totaling £128,910 were made to accounts in the name of the florist business, and in different versions of her married and maiden names.”
He said that MGN, publishers of the People sought restitution of those sums from Mrs Horton claiming repayment on the basis, either of “knowing receipt, knowing assistance in a fraudulent breach of trust” or that of money “had and received”.
Mrs Horton’s had claimed that the money had gone into her bank accounts and had been innocently spent, mainly on day to day living expenses. She said she had attributed any increase in their standard of living to increases in Mr Horton’s salary.
However, the judge said he did not consider she had been frank with the court.
He said: “She first gave the description of herself as the unquestioning wife who signed blank cheques to her husband eight years ago, in circumstances which she cannot now remember.
“In the period of a year or more before Mr Horton’s dismissal she accepts she wrote out cheques to herself, which were paid into her own account, sometimes by herself personally going to the bank. But she gives no explanation of why she did this, or of what made her think that there would be money in the Wymans account, or where it might have come from. The business had been closed for many years by this time.
“These two descriptions of her activities are not reconcilable. In the early years it was perhaps just credible that Mrs Horton might have overpaid money to her from his salary, and might have asked her to pay back the excess from time to time.
“But Mr Horton is a woman who earned her own living before being married, and carried on the florist business for a number of years after she married. She is not an incapable person. I do not believe she failed to notice that the payments to her husband could not continue to be explained by erroneous overpayments out of his salary.
“Nor could there be any good reason for Mr Horton to pay money from his salary into the Wymans account, and then for her to have to write cheques to herself in order to transfer it into her own account. Either she actually knew what was happening, or she closed her eyes to the obvious fact that Mr Horton was engaged in money-laundering.”