A PRE-SCHOOL was almost forced to close after a mum-of-three siphoned off cash from its account to help pay her online bingo debts.

Wendy White, aged 35, of Bracken Close, Birchwood, stole £2,212.18 from Locking Stumps Pre-School after signing cheques to herself to help pay off part of her gambling debts which ran in to the region of tens of thousands.

Warrington Crown Court heard on Friday how the first the school knew of any problem was when money in its accounts ran dry.

John Oates, prosecuting, said: “White was responsible for the financial affairs and was one of two people authorised to sign cheques on the school account.

“The co-sign was advised by the bank on May 16 that a cheque had bounced.

“She was quite sure it shouldn’t have bounced because there was substantial funds in the account.”

After being arrested she admitted signing cheques as she had debts in the region of £20,000 and had already taken out pay day loans to stem her debts.

Simeon Evans, defending, said White had no previous convictions.

He added: “It’s a classic tale in the modern internet age and the accessibility to users of gambling which can be accessed from the comfort of one’s home in which enormous debts can be run up.

“Effectively her downfall can all link back to when she first discovered the world of online gambling.

“She was paying herself in advance and some times she managed to pay off a significant amount in her own wages but some times she couldn’t.

“She is a pariah in the small community because so many of her neighbours have children who go to the nursery.

“She is not only shunned but has remarks aimed at her in the street.”

Handing her a 12 month community order including supervision Recorder Geoffrey Lowe said: “You had financial difficulties because of your initial and growing interest in online gambling.

“Everyone knows what you have done and there has been a reaction to that is a profound punishment.”

He also ordered she pay a nominal £1 in compensation due to her extensive debts.

SPEAKING after the sentencing the pre-school said White’s actions almost closed the school down.

Gemma Antell, from Locking Stumps Pre-School, said: “We were within days of closing, the only reason we didn’t close was because staff worked unpaid for months and the pre-school had to borrow money to pay bills.

“We can never thank staff enough, to do that shows their dedication.

“The parents in the community have fundraised and supported us to get us where we are today.”

They also hit out at the sentence handed down to White.

“We appreciate she has young children and a custodial sentence would be difficult but we don’t see what deterrent this will serve,” added Miss Antell. “The fine is completely pointless, we do not understand charging her £1.

“She has never shown any remorse or apologised to us throughout the last year.”