A CELEBRITY TV chef has slammed a judge’s decision to suspend the sentence of a fraudster who nearly ruined his business and left him homeless.

Stephen Terry, 56, was angered after swindler Nicola Nightingale walked free from court after she conned him out of £150,000 while working at Abergavenny’s Hardwick restaurant.

She stole the money from him over a two-year period following her appointment as an office manager hired to look after his finances.

It wasn't long before the grandmother and mother-of-five was fleecing him by creating fake invoices, taking out loans in the company’s name and inflating her pay.

Her husband Simon Nightingale, 51, was also involved in her scheme and pocketed £46,000 after money was paid into his bank account.

He was also handed a suspended prison sentence after being found guilty of possession of criminal property following a trial.

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Nicola Nightingale and Simon Nightingale look happy leaving Cardiff Crown Court this morning after receiving suspended prison sentences. Picture: Wales News Service

Nicola Nightingale pleaded guilty to fraud.

Speaking after the couple were sentenced, Mr Terry, who was Gordon Ramsay's best man, expressed his frustration that she is not spending her first night in jail this evening.

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“I’m very disappointed if I’m honest,” he revealed. “I’m absolutely shocked she didn’t go to prison.

“This is a sham. It’s a joke.

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Stephen Terry and his wife Joanna Terry were less than impressed with the sentences handed down to the Nightingales. Picture: Wales News Service

“What message does this send out about white collar crime?

“It says white collar crime pays.

“Just make sure you’ve got kids.”

Mr Terry was making a reference to the judge, Recorder Barry Clarke, saying the fact the couple had children was one of the reasons he was suspending their sentences.

He added: “We heard of what the impact of custody might have been on their children been but what about what about our family?

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Nicola Nightingale gives a wave after the couple were spared an immediate prison sentence. Picture: Wales News Service

“My wife’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and passed away during this.

“Everything just seems to be in their favour.”

“We could have lost our business and our house and we’ve only survived by the skin of our teeth.

“Nicola Nightingale had no regard for our employers or suppliers.

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The Hardwick restaurant in Abergavenny. Picture: Wales News Service

“I was adamant she was going to prison today. I am absolutely gobsmacked.”

Mr Terry had advised businesses people to have a more hands on approach.

“I just hope that people learn from our lesson and make sure they get more involved in their business because there are people doing this right now,” he said.

“We were so busy that we didn’t keep an eye on what she was doing.

“If she had not been caught, she would have ended us. The business would have gone under.”

The court heard the Nightingale family took two trips to Disneyland Paris, one to the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and also holidayed in France.

Mr Terry, a regular on BBC TV show Great British Menu, said: “During the trial we heard that they were going on holidays that we could only dream of and all the time we were paying for them.”

The defendants, formerly of Church Road, Gilwern, near Abergavenny, are set to face a proceeds of crime hearing later this year.