A SINGLE mother has admitted pocketing nearly £10,000 after stealing from a local nursery to feed a ‘shopping addiction’.
Michelle Cooper from Grange Lane, Ingham, near Gainsborough confessed to taking £9,705 from the Little Acorns Pre-school Group in Ingham when she volunteered as a treasurer.
The 37-year-old mother-of-two was accused of ‘grossly abusing the trust’ of the nursery, while Lincoln Magistrates Court also heard how the money was taken to feed her shopping addiction.
Cooper’s mother referred to the theft as a ‘cry for help’.
The money was taken on separate occasions between May 2010 and May 2011.
Associate prosecutor Mr Paulson told the court that the Little Acorns Pre-school Group, which currently has 26 children on roll but are often over-subscribed, is funded by charitable fund raising, support from the local community and money from the local authority.
The group was founded 10 years ago and is run by a volunteer committee consisting of mothers of children at the play school, and employs some professional staff.
Mr Paulson told magistrates how Cooper transferred money from the pre-school’s account into her own on a number of occasions.
“She fully admitted that she carried out the offence so she could ‘buy her children nice things’,” he said.
“Because she held the position of treasurer and had sole responsibility of these funds, she was in a high position of trust – trust which she grossly abused for her own personal gain.”
He continued: “The amount of work that the group have put into raising the money now has to be put back and this will have an impact on the children and the service they receive.”
“They are currently struggling to break the bank, and a project for an outdoor play area has had to be scrapped.”
Mr Paulson added: “It is uncertain if the group will be able to continue.”
“There are substantial gaps in their funding and they are barely scraping through as it is.”
Her defence, Mr Miller, said that Cooper had been suffering from severe depression for the last 13 years, and in 2002 she was voluntarily admitted to receive psycho-therapy treatment, and has been on medication ever since.
“As a single parent, she relied a lot on her family before they moved away to Durham and York in 2009,” said Mr Miller. “When they moved, she lost that support.”
“Her family have told her that during the last few years she has developed what they call ‘an addiction to shopping’. She would go into shops and buy goods because it gave her a split-second improvement in her mood.”
He continued: “She says the money she stole was ‘frittered away’. Some of it was spent on visiting her family and some was spent on treats, clothes and other items for her children.”
“Her mother has called this ‘a sort of cry for help’.”
The defence then told the court how Cooper went to see the chairperson and staff at the Little Acorns Pre-school Group and told them what she had done before they informed the police and she made a full confession.
“She has been extremely anxious to repay the school and has so far paid about £675, raised by selling her own goods at car boot sales,” said Mr Miller. “She intends to do whatever she can to repay the money she has taken.”
The court heard how Cooper intends to move with her family in Durham where her children have already started school to avoid this happening again.
Chair of Little Acorns Playgroup Rachel Heskins said that it had been a terrible ordeal.
“It has been a dreadful time,” she said. “We have reviewed and changed our procedures to strengthen our internal controls and to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.”
On Friday 16th September, magistrates committed Cooper’s case to Lincoln Crown Court.
“The offences are so serious that we feel that greater punishment than we can give will be needed.”
Cooper was released on unconditional bail until she must return to Crown Court.
No date for committal has been set yet.