A 40-year-old woman who was found guilty by a jury of stealing money from the charity where she worked has narrowly escaped being sent to jail.
Joanne Watton, from Inchmarnock Drive in Dundonald, was given a three-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, by a Crown Court judge who branded her actions as “utterly reprehensible”.
Judge Sandra Crawford also fined Watton £500 and ordered that she pay the Voice Of Young People in Care charity back the £200 which she stole from them while employed as a financial and administrative assistant.
Watton – a mother of three –- continues to deny stealing £200, claiming she put the money in an envelope and posted it to the charity’s office at Botanic Avenue in Belfast from a letterbox in Newtownards.
During the trial held at Belfast Crown Court in April, the jury heard that at the time of the theft, Watton had been working for the charity for around seven weeks.
Despite her denials, she was found guilty of cashing a cheque for £200 on May 20, 2014 and of intentionally depriving the charity of the money.
Watton was asked by her manager to cash the cheque, and to then buy gift vouchers from the Post Office which were to be distributed to children and young people who had taken part in a survey.
The court heard that while she did cash the cheque, Watton went home with the money in her bag that night.
The Crown’s case was that it was never her intention to return the money, but Watton claimed she posted the money back to the charity. She also claims staff were advised not to leave money or valuables lying around the office, and that she took the money home on the day in question as other senior members of staff were in a meeting and she didn’t have access to the safe.
She never returned back to work and the charity said it never received the money she claimed to have posted.