Published: 00:01, 25 February 2012
by Paul Hooper
A Kent Social Services official who raided an emergency fund for vulnerable children to pay her rent has escaped an immediate jail sentence.
Pauline Stannard, 63, took nearly £5,000 from a Kent County Council account designed to help children in need, including disabled youngsters.
She faced a possible three-year jail term - but was given a nine-month suspended sentence for the nine offences.
The money should have been used to help the families of vulnerable youngsters, but instead, Stannard, of Primrose Road, Dover, wrote the £550 cheques each month to her landlord.
And when colleagues spotted the fraud, Stannard - who was working in the social services' Whitstable office - claimed she felt sick - and went home.
But when police went to interview her about the missing money, which totalled £4,950, she had fled to France, Canterbury Crown Court was told.
Although the money was taken between August 2008 and April 2009, Stannard was only arrested last year when she flew into Gatwick Airport for skin cancer treatment.
James Bilsland, prosecuting, told how she had worked in the social services department handling requests for emergency funds for a variety of children's organisations, including those caring for youngsters with disabilities.
He said it was her job to issue cheques on behalf of social services to meet the immediate needs of vulnerable families in Kent.
In July 2009, an audit revealed nine cheques had been paid to a Michael Fincham - who turned out to be Stannard's landlord in Dover, he added.
Stannard left the UK as police officers began their investigation and travelled to the south of France to avoid answering questions.
Although a warrant was issued for her arrest, she was only arrested last year when she returned for treatment for her skin condition.
Lucy Luttman, defending, said Stannard had worked for the social services department for seven years, but got into debt when her husband - who was self-employed - became ill.
"when she fell behind with the rent she panicked and didn't know what to do - she took a foolish and ultimately wrong decision...” – lucy luttman, defending
She said that despite the warrant, Stannard had travelled in and out of the UK on several occasions.
"She feels utter shame and remorse that she finds herself before the court," said Ms Luttman.
"When she fell behind with the rent she panicked and didn't know what to do - she took a foolish and ultimately wrong decision."
But judge Simon James told the weeping Stannard - who admitted nine fraud charges - that she had committed a serious breach of trust.
He said she had taken money away from people who were "vulnerable members of society who needed it in times of crisis".
The judge gave her a nine-month jail sentence, suspended for 18 months, and ordered she do 200 hours' unpaid work.
He then ordered her to repay the money at £50 a month, telling her: "I see no reason why you shouldn't pay compensation when you clearly had enough money to travel abroad regularly."
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