A TRUSTED secretary who swindled almost £28,000 from her funeral parlour bosses wept as she was jailed for what a judge called "a gross breach".

Kathleen Johnson paid grieving relatives cheques - meant to meet burial and service costs - straight into her own bank account, Teesside Crown Court was told.

Over five years, the 51-year-old divorce mother pocketed £27,735 which belonged to Yarm Funeral Service in Stockton - where she had worked for eight years.

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Boss Colin McGinley said in a statement that he felt "cheated and betrayed" and added: "Kathy had worked for me for so long she was treated as part of the family."

Judge Simon Bourne-Arton, QC, told weeping Johnson: "Mr McGinley gave you your job and gave you his trust, and you paid him back by stealing from him."

He added: "Those who come to a funeral parlour, clients in a funeral parlour, as you know, are at their very lowest, full of grief and expect to be looked after.

"They expect a good service. They do not expect to be treated in the way that you treated some of those clients . . . there was some degree of persistency."

The court heard how the scam came to light when a suspicious bank cashier contacted Mr McGinley when she saw Johnson paying a cheque into her account.

The secretary was sacked on the spot in 2011 but was not interviewed by the police until April last year, when she "fully" admitted the string of devious thefts.

Her lawyer, Graham Brown, said: "I am utterly satisfied Kathleen Johnson stands apart from the vast majority of defendants hat appear before this court.

"She is like a fish out of water. It has been a sadness to see the trauma she is going through and the consciousness she has of the effect her actions have had."

Mr Brown said she was living an "isolated, lonely insular" life in a flat above the funeral parlour, and was struggling to cope on her £450-a-month salary.

The judge said it was not unusual to see people of good character in court, and jailed Johnson, of The Meadowings, Yarm, for 16 months after she admitted theft and attempted theft.