Dundonald woman denies stealing £200 from charity employers

A 40-year-old woman has denied stealing £200 from the charity which employed her as a financial and administrative assistant.

Joanne Watton, from Inchmarnock Drive in Dundonald, is standing trial at Belfast Crown Court, accused of the theft from the Voice Of Young People in Care charity.

At the time of the alleged incident, Watton had been working at the charity’s Belfast office at Botanic Avenue for around seven weeks.

She is accused of cashing a cheque for £200 on May 20, 2014 and of intentionally depriving the charity of the money – a charge she denies.

The jury of eight men and four women heard that Watton was asked by her manager to cash the cheque, and to then buy gift vouchers from the post office which were to be distrubuted 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.

Whilst the Crown state that it was never her intention to return the money, Watton has made the case that 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.

Giving evidence, Watton said that several things occurred in and around the time of May 20 and that the money was the last thing on her mind.

These issues included her son hurting himself at school, moving house, a relationship coming to an end and also both hurting her foot and damaging her phone during the house move.

The jury heard that Watton cashed the cheque on Tuesday May 20. She claimed she didn’t have time to go to the post office that day to get the gift vouchers as she had to get back and man the office, so she put the money in the zip compartment of her handbag.

When she went to work and was asked about the money the following day, she went to get the money from her handbag – but realised she had a different bag with her that day and that the money was in the other handbag.

She then left early as her son had been injured playing rugby in school.

On Thursday May 22, Watton’s manager said she arrived at work but “Joanne wasn’t there” and “there was no telephone call to report she would not be in that day”.

Via a series of text messages, Watton said she was at hospital as she had hurt her foot, and at this stage she told her manager that she would get her boyfriend to drop off the money.

Watton had pre-booked Friday May 23 off to enable her to move, with her manager reporting there had been “no sign” of the money arriving that day.

The charity was closed that weekend, and as the following Monday was a Bank Holiday, the office was open again on Tuesday May 27. Watton was not at her desk, prompting her manager to call and leave a voicemail.

When the manager opened her emails, one had been sent by Watton saying she hoped the manager had received the money and that she was sending in a sick line.

It is Watton’s case that she sent the money in a jiffy envelope, which she placed in a post box in Newtownards on Saturday May 24.

Under cross-examination, Watton accepted that in hindsight there would have been better ways to return the money than by posting it, but said: “I completely forgot about the money because I was sorting out other issues.”

She also told the jury she was annoyed and disappointed to be accused of stealing the money, which the charity said it never received.

At hearing.