A WOMAN stole more than £8,000 from a Henley pre-school to pay her rent and buy food for her two young children.
Bookkeeper Karina Skidmore claimed her husband was frequently unemployed and did not contribute any money to the household.
She was spared jail when she appeared at Oxford Crown Court on Friday.
Skidmore 50, of Mount View, Henley, was sentenced to eight months in prison, suspended for a year, after admitting one count of theft.
She was cleared of two charges of fraud involving two false invoices totalling £1,214, which she had denied.
The court heard that between September 2012 and April 2013 Skidmore stole a total of £8,313 from Badgemore Pre-School in Hop Gardens, where she was responsible for paying staff wages as well as invoices and cheques.
She paid the money into her bank account and also made out invoices to herself for work at the school which had been done free by volunteers.
Skidmore deleted numerous entries in the school’s books with correction fluid and then wrote new figures. She was arrested in October last year after the school’s accountant noticed the two invoices. The court heard she told police that she did not remember writing the invoices but that she must have done so because she was the only person with access to the books.
Sarita Basra, prosecuting, said: “The defendant said she often owed herself wages but records show she paid herself several times a month, often hundreds of pounds.
“She explains the Tipp-Ex by saying she must have made genuine mistakes but this seems like an awful lot of mistakes.
“There has been a high breach of trust in this case. This is an organisation which does not have a huge amount of funds and a few thousand makes a huge difference as to whether it can survive or not.”
Skidmore was employed by the pre-school in 2009, having volunteered there for 16 years. She did not have a contract but there was a verbal agreement for her to work about 24 hours a month at a rate of £12 per hour.
She told the court that her home life was a “nightmare” and said she was worried about her eight-year-old twins’ mental and physical wellbeing if left with their father.
She said her husband, who has three other children from a previous marriage, had not accompanied her to court but had asked her to text him when she knew the verdict so he knew whether he would have to collect the children from school.
Skidmore said: “I’ve been with my husband for 10 years and on only three occasions has he given me any money, each time £150. He’s had 10 different jobs in that time and uses the money he earns to get what he wants.
“The money I took was to pay rent and buy food. I was intending to pay it all back.
“My husband is very selfish and controlling. I’ve had him arrested twice but withdrawn the charges. My eldest stepdaughter also had him arrested for attacking her. It’s a nightmare.
“My children adore their father so I don’t want them to separate them from him and see him fail to turn up for time with them.”
Lucy French, for Skidmore, said bank statements showed the stolen money was spent on supermarket shopping and bills.
“There is no suggestion of expensive habits or an extravagant lifestyle — it was simply to pay the bills and feed her children,” she said.
“Miss Skidmore was in a difficult position where she was struggling to cope. All the responsibility for the household was on her shoulders.
“She is very sorry about the consequences of what has happened. She had intended to pay all the money back but that was false optimism.”
Miss French added: “The chair of the pre-school committee admits the books were not kept well. Miss Skidmore never had any contract and there were vague guidelines on what she should pay herself.”
The court heard that Skidmore now worked as a nurse at a nursing home, where she was a valued member of staff. She began making repayments to the school in October and has already paid back £500.
Judge Mary Jane Mowat said she would spare Skidmore jail to allow her to continue paying back the school and care for her children.
She said: “I accept that the arrangement with the school was very vague but that meant there was an even higher requirement of you to be scrupulous in paying yourself.
“You have done great damage to the school and could have put it out of business.
“The money you took was not for luxuries, it was for basic necessities for your family and you have two young children whose interests I have to bear in mind.”
Skidmore was also given a 12-month supervision order and ordered to undertake a course to help boost her self-esteem.
She will return on August 22 to formally agree the repayments to the school.
Elizabeth Singer, chairwoman of Badgemore Pre-School, said: “This is a matter of public record and as such we feel there is no value in us making any further comment.”