Financial administrator who stole almost �20k from Oasis Centre in Wisbech avoids jail sentence

THE former financial administrator of the Oasis Centre in Wisbech has today escaped jail for stealing almost �20,000 from the charity to tide over her family’s budget.

Andrea Smith stole �5,849.30 in cash and �13,546.32 in cheques in a three-year period from the St Michael’s Avenue centre.

Today she was given an 18-month community order, a 150-hour unpaid work order and told to pay back almost �4,500 after a judge at Cambridge Crown Court said: “You are clearly very remorseful and have carried a large burden of guilt.”

Judge Jonathan Haworth said: “You are genuinely ashamed of what you did and have offered and made attempts to repay money.”

Smith, 46, of Tinker’s Drove, Wisbech, was tearful throughout today’s sentencing hearing.

Last month Fenland magistrates were told that Smith pocketed cash and destroyed cheques, and after failing to pay money into the centre’s bank account she tampered with paperwork to try and cover her tracks.

But missing documents raised suspicions and investigations by the centre manager Chris Stevens showed that thousands of pounds was missing.

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Prosecutor Andrea Fawcett said: “The centre had not realised anything was untoward until February 2009, when a cheque paid into the centre did not appear to have been cashed.

“There was also concern about a missing paying-in book that Smith had been using to bank money, the book was never found.”

When Mrs Stevens asked Smith for an explanation about the missing money in May 2009, she could give none. In September last year, Smith claimed that someone must have stolen money from her desk.

Inquiries with the bank revealed that money entered on two paying-in slips had not reached the bank, and two slips had been tampered with. Smith had traced a bank stamp to make it appear that money had been banked.

Smith, who had no previous convictions, worked at the centre since 2002. She admitted stealing the cash and cheques between March 2007 and May last year.

Today’s hearing heard that Smith repaid �1,500 of the stolen cash on Monday.

Georgina Gibbs, mitigating, also said: “She has always dealt with the financial side of things in the family and has admitted they were living beyond their means.

“She felt she had no option but to borrow money from the trust that she had hoped to pay back.

“If it had been her intention to steal she could have just left her job without telling anyone.

“She had stopped taking money before everybody became aware she had taken anything.”

Ms Gibbs added that Smith, who earns �130 a fortnight, recently applied for a job in the NHS but got a poor reference.

“She has put herself in a position where any job interview is going to be lost before it’s started,” she said.

Summing up the case, Judge Haworth told Smith: “You were in a very responsible position dealing with finances at the centre. For you to pocket the centre’s money was a breach of trust of some significance.

“However, the way in which it started is perhaps an all too familiar story where people find they cannot repay what they originally took.

“You continued until repayment was completely beyond your means. This is the way in which people come to commit this type of offence.

“It’s completely different from someone who set out to steal from the start. Probation officers agreed that this is how the offences began.”

Part of Smith’s community order includes supervision at the Dawn Project, a Cambridge-based initiative offering women information, support and an opportunity to change aspects of their lives they’re not happy with.

The judge also made a compensation order for �4,349 – the remainder of the stolen cash. He ordered Smith to pay �40 a week starting in 28 days time.

Judge Haworth said: “If you breach these orders you will find yourself back in this court. If you have any trouble in making payment please don’t let it mount up, speak to your solicitors and take advice.

“This will give you some breathing space but you’ll have to get yourself sorted and find work.”

The centre is currently in the process of having the destroyed cheques reissued, but around �1,900 cannot be replaced.

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