A WIGAN school dinner lady stole more than £37,000 in canteen takings after she and her husband ran into financial problems, a court heard.
Elizabeth Heaton was told by a judge that it was a sad day to see her in the dock “but you brought this on yourself by persistent dishonesty”.
The 45-year-old was kitchen supervisor at Rose Bridge High School, Ince, where she had worked for 21 years. She was employed by MetroFresh, a department within the borough council whose services include catering.
Sentencing her, Judge Robert Trevor-Jones said: “At the very least you stole in excess of £37,000 from your employer in the clearest breach of trust.
“Over many months you were dishonestly failing to bank the money concerned and failing to provide the necessary paperwork and were squirrelling the money away.
“I accept it was not used to fund an extravagant lifestyle but to stem debts and liabilities you and your husband had following the collapse of his business. I accept that was the catalyst.
“When the balloon went up and you knew there was to be an inspection of the school you went immediately to the school and employers and accepted sole responsibility,” he said.
The judge said she had brought “utter shame and disgrace” on her family and embarrassment to the school and there had to be a prison sentence to reflect the degree of dishonesty.
He imposed 10 months’ imprisonment but after hearing that she is to repay the money from her pension fund and has no previous convictions he suspended the term for two years pointing out: “It’s been a very close call.”
He also ordered her to carry out 240 hours’ unpaid work and she left court with her weeping husband.
Heaton, of Chatham Street, Leigh, had pleaded guilty to theft between July 1, 2011 and February 27, 2014.
Nicholas Walker, prosecuting, told Liverpool Crown Court that her dishonesty started after the school introduced a cashless “card” system for students to pay for their lunches.
Heaton delayed banking the money paid into machines by the students to load the cards with credit and also e-forms recording the amounts sent for banking and did not end in the forms at the same time as the banking which allowed her to hide the true amount being received by the school.
He said that the true value of the money taken would probably never be known and could be significantly higher than £37,000.
Amos Waldman, defending, said that she had been too embarrassed to discuss her debts and seek professional help.
After her husband’s business collapsed they lost their home and owed more money.
She took out a loan at an “extortionate” rate of interest and matters spiralled out of control”. She had hoped to get money from her husband’s pension fund but the investment collapsed and so it did not materialise.