A SHOE shop was nearly forced to close after an employee stole more than £30,000 from the business, a court has heard.

Lesa Carter, from Padgate, swindled a total of £30,221.50 out of Clarks branches in Warrington town centre and Stockton Heath by falsifying refunds and pocketing cash from the till.

The latter store’s profits were impacted so badly that the family-run business responsible for the running of the two franchises, and six other shops across the north west and North Wales, was close to shutting the site.

Chester Crown Court heard on Wednesday, June 9, that the 48-year-old first joined the company in June 2011 and was initially employed in the Widnes outlet before working her way up to the position of assistant manager at Stockton Heath.

In late 2019, Carter began a trial period as a manager at the Golden Square Shopping Centre store.

That November, a colleague at the town centre branch discovered a discrepancy whereby a refund had been authorised but no shoes had been returned.

After an audit, it was discovered that the defendant had defrauded the business out of £12,378 using this method since October 2015.

She had also brazenly swiped £17,843.50 from cash registers.

When interviewed by police, Carter confessed to taking monies and claimed that she had been ‘up to her eyeballs in debt’.

In a statement read out to the court, managing director of the franchise John Taylor had ‘never encountered anything to this extent’ during his decades in the company and believed that the staff member was a ‘trusted employee’.

He also described how he had ‘came very close to having to close down the Stockton Heath branch because profits were so low’ as a direct result of her actions.

Carter, of Handley Drive, admitted fraud by abuse of position and two counts of theft by employee during an earlier hearing at Warrington Magistrates Court and brought a suitcase to her sentencing hearing.

Sarah Griffin, defending, said: “This defendant has come to court fully prepared for an immediate custodial sentence.

“Certainly, that sentence will be at the forefront of this court’s mind.

“This defendant does have a realistic prospect of rehabilitation – she is a lady of previous good character and is assessed as being a low risk of reoffending.

“She has demonstrated in the past 18 months that she can properly stay out of trouble and stay on the straight and narrow.

“There is strong personal mitigation on her behalf in relation to her physical and mental health.

“This is a nasty offence with a very harmful effect on the business, but in my submission the court can as an act of mercy suspend the sentence.”

But judge Michael Leeming postponed his sentencing exercise for three weeks to allow for medical reports, with the defendant due to undergo scans for health issues in the coming days.

Adjourning the case, he said: “Please don’t read anything into the fact that I am adjourning this sentencing for this enquiry to be made.”

Carter, who has no previous convictions and is the primary carer for her disabled daughter, will now be sentenced back before the same court later this month and has been released on unconditional bail until that date.