Two sisters have admitted defrauding Penrith-based haulier SI & S Hastings Haulage of £1.2m by falsely claiming the company owed them money for advertising.

Joanne Palmer, 40, and Stephanie Palmer, 38, from Stockport, who also faced allegations of blackmail, had denied any wrongdoing but on the second day of their trial last week accepted committing the frauds.

SI&I Haulage has operating licences for 13 trucks and 14 trailers and operates from three depots in Penrith.

Carlisle Crown Court court heard that in 2017 the sisters - described in court as professional fraudsters - called the haulier's company secretary asking if she wished to advertise the business in a magazine or online. The company secretary asked them to send some paperwork for consideration.

Prosecutor Tim Evans said the company secretary regarded it as a cold call and had no intention of taking up their offer as the firm "have got their customer base and are already pretty well known in the area,” adding that SI&S Hastings never received any paperwork, or invoices.

Shortly after the call the company secretary received calls claiming there was an outstanding balance of money owed to pay for advertising. She told the caller she had not agreed to any advertising. However the caller claimed she had agreed verbally and therefore owed money.

She then was bombarded with calls every day demanding payment both via the company number and her personal mobile.

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The prosecutor said the sisters were "relentless in the contact that they made," adding that the sisters threatened her with the bailiffs, claiming they would be at her home within the hour and were abusive and threated to destroy her business.

“Some of the calls said that if she didn’t pay the money, they were going to hurt her children and her grandchildren," he added.

Since the company secretary was convinced that the threats would be carried out, and feared for her family's safety, she began making payments to the sisters, the court heard.

The prosecutor said: “There is no doubt at all that there was no advertising done by anyone in this case; there was no underlying work to justify any of the money being demanded." He added: "Astonishing sums were paid for what is accepted to be fraud.”

The jury were presented with a summary of evidence taken from more than 4,000 pages of telephone and other records.

Both sisters also targeted a shellfish firm in Bridlington, making an official there hand over almost £300,000, the court heard.

After the sisters each admitted two counts of fraud, the prosecution accepted the defendants' not guilty pleas to blackmail and money laundering charges.

The sisters will be sentenced on 4 August.