THE treasurer of a school parent–teacher association who stole close to £8,000 has avoided being sent to jail.

Karen Burgess, of White Clover Square in Lymm, pocketed the earnings of fundraising events by Ravenbank Community Primary School organised to improve the learning of pupils.

Her actions were branded as ‘terrible’ at Warrington Magistrates’ Court last week, which heard how the hard work and dedication of other PTA members had ‘gone to waste’.

But after pledging to repay all of the money she stole from the Lymm-based primary and showing her ‘remorse’, the 47-year-old mother was told that she would not require time behind bars.

Prosecutor Alison Warburton informed the court how Burgess had embezzled a total of £7928.12 belonging to the Pepper Street school between November 1, 2017 and July 26, 2018 – an amount which has not been recovered.

She took on the role of treasurer in October 2017, and was responsible for counting, recording and banking money raised by school fundraisers at the earliest opportunity.

According to the PTA chair, alarm bells began to ring when Burgess ‘procrastinated’ after being asked to produce finance statements at meetings.

The chair got in touch with a former treasurer to ask for help, and the defendant was told she was not welcome anymore as treasurer.

An audit was carried out and a shortfall of £7928.12 was discovered. Two lever arch files containing a breakdown of the accounts were subsequently handed to the police, who began investigating.

When interviewed by police, Burgess initially said that she had not done anything wrong, but later told officers that said that she did not bank the money when she should have done.

She added that she felt ‘upset and disappointed’, and asked to be afforded the chance to rectify her actions.

In a victim impact statement, headteacher Lesley Sweeney said: “When I first heard about the money, I was concerned about the school’s reputation, with it being an outstanding school with more than 500 pupils.

Warrington Guardian:

Burgess was sentenced at Warrington Magistrates' Court

“The PTA works tirelessly to raise money for the school between working full time, and members’ hard work and dedication has gone to waste.

“Ravenbank is one of the lowest funded schools in the country. This loss of funds meant that money for refurbishing toilets had to be taken from the school’s budget and iPads for pupils could not be purchased until a much later date.”

Despite the defendant having no previous convictions, Ms Warburton asked that because her actions amounted to a serious breach of trust over a long period of time, she should be sentenced in the crown court.

In defence of his client, Julian Tutchener-Ellis referred to a pre-sentence report in which Burgess had ‘expressed remorse’.

He spoke of how the defendant had experienced the breakdown of her 24-year relationship towards the end of 2016, which caused her drink problem to spiral out of control.

“At its peak, she was spending £100 per week on vodka and cider to self-medicate for her woes,” he said.

This led to money troubles after she took on the role of treasurer, and having access to ‘easy cash’ was something that she simply ‘could not resist’.

Mr Tutchener-Ellis asked magistrates to reflect on Burgess’ previous years working with the PTA without incident, her guilty plea at the first opportunity, her lack of previous convictions and her willingness to repay the money in full.

Before sentencing, chair magistrate Peter Hall said: “You did not take any steps to correct your mistakes and waited until you were found out.

“This was a terrible breach of trust.”

Burgess was sentenced to 26 weeks in prison suspended for two years and ordered to complete 180 hours of unpaid work and 20 rehabilitation activity requirement days.

She must also repay the £7928.12 that she stole in full.