A SERIAL thief who targets unsuspecting good causes has been jailed for two years for pilfering the funds of a church charity - days of getting a job as its treasurer.

Ruth Lumsden applied for the vacant post at Cafe Together, a Methodist Church-run group providing weekly free hot meals for the disadvantaged in Easington Colliery, County Durham, in April.

Less than a week after being given access to the charity's credit card and banking she frittered away more than half its funds on furniture, take-aways and supermarket shopping.

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Durham Crown Court heard she claimed to have “a financial background” and was a member of a church congregation.

Ian Bradshaw, prosecuting, told the court: “Bearing in mind who she was dealing with, no checks were made, and she was given the charity’s Visa card and password for online banking.

“But, within a week of her taking over, the bank contacted the former treasurer due to unusual activity within the account.”

Mr Bradshaw said this included payment for takeaway meals, a mobile phone top-up and a supermarket bill.

“As a result the account was frozen and, on closer examination, five transactions totalling £5,200 were made into the defendant’s bank account, so police were contacted.”

A search at her home address revealed there were new items of furniture, including a bed.

Mr Bradshaw said Lumsden initially cited duress but, when her claim was examined, there proved to be no substance.

The court heard her record includes previous theft and fraud offences, often targeting the charity sector.

She received a one-year prison sentence after £7,699 went missing from a British Heart Foundation branch, in 2009, and was given a community order for fraud committed against the People’s Kitchen charity on Tyneside, in January.

Mr Bradshaw quoted from Cafe Together secretary Christine Smithson’s victim statement, in which she said the whole experience left everyone connected with the charity “sick to the stomach”.

Mrs Smithson said: “She befriended us and we welcomed her with open arms.

“But she’s left us feeling so upset and angry and we fear we may lose volunteers as a result.”

Lumsden, 44, of Crawlaw Road, Easington Colliery, admitted theft and making false representation.

Jane Waugh, mitigating, said it was an unsophisticated offence and Lumsden appeared to have acted “in full sight of everyone".

Miss Waugh said: “It seems she almost wants to be caught.

“She can’t explain why she commits these particularly mean offences against these organisations.

“She realises there’s a reason and now, for the first time, wants to address it.”

Jailing her for two years, Recorder Ray Singh told Lumsden: “Groups like this rely on the honesty and integrity of people who apply for such posts, trusting that they’re telling the truth.

“You should not be allowed anywhere near the bank account of this particular charity.”