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Northern Ireland woman who stole £10k from nursery kept court appearances secret from family, judge told

Montgomery

The husband and family of a woman who stole more than £10,000 from a church's nursery she managed know nothing of her court case, a judge heard yesterday.

Applying for the case against 44-year-old thief Joanne Montgomery to be adjourned, her defence counsel revealed to Craigavon Crown Court that despite the prospect of going to jail, "her husband and family remain unaware" of her crimes.

At a hearing last November Montgomery, a mother-of-four from The Beeches Manor in Stoneyford, pleaded guilty to one charge of committing fraud by abusing the position she held with Little Oaks Pre-school in that she wrote out cheques worth £9,906 to herself and a charge of theft in that she stole £1,299 which had been "raised at fundraising events", all committed on dates between December 1, 2013 and September 30, 2016.

She was due to be sentenced by Judge Patrick Lynch QC yesterday but her lawyer asked for that to be put back to allow her more time to gather together "reparation" monies.

He conceded the plea and sentence had been adjourned for longer than is normal as she sought to potentially remortgage her home to pay back the stolen monies, but that proved to be not possible.

The lawyer further revealed, however, that in the interim her former employers had written to her to inform her there was a lump sum of a pension, amounting to £10,191, to be made available from February 1.

"Given the court's concerns and attitude to reparation, I would ask the court to grant some indulgence to allow her that period... to make payment and to put the best foot forward that she can," submitted the lawyer.

Prosecution counsel Ian Tannahill told the court "I have to say that I'm sceptical", outlining that Montgomery's plan to remortgage her house had come to nothing.

"She had been the manager of the group, people's taxes were not paid and items for the children were unable to be bought," said Mr Tannahill, but conceded that "if someone had to make reparation and can realistically do it, the court needs to take that into account".

Adjourning passing sentence until February 21 and freeing Montgomery on bail, Judge Lynch told the fraudster "it's not impressive" that she was hiding her "mean offence".

"I think trying to hide this is probably the worst thing that she can do and doesn't impress the court at all," he said.

Judge Lynch warned the defendant: "I make no promises one way or the other as to what the sentence will be."

Belfast Telegraph