A WOMAN whose thieving almost led to the collapse of a small garage business, must pay a mere £5 in crime proceeds, a court has ruled.

Although Paula Kitching took more than £32,000 in little more than two years while working as secretary and book-keeper for Louis Smith Motors, in Staindrop, near Barnard Castle, she is now said to have no identifiable realisable assets.

Her dishonesty only emerged when she was off work sick and submitted her resignation, in February 2015.

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But it was her subsequent ill-health, which culminated in her suffering a brain tumour, the surgery for which caused knock-on mobility issues, which was a factor in her escaping an immediate prison sentence, at Durham Crown Court, in April.

Thirty-eight-year-old Kitching, of Lingard Walk, Newton Aycliffe, who admitted six counts of fraud, was given an 18-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.

She was ordered to pay a £100 statutory court surcharge at the end of that hearing and proceedings were adjourned for proceeds of crime inquiries into her means, to see what, if anything, could be recovered by way of confiscation.

On her return to court, on Friday, Ian West, for the Crown, and Victoria Lamballe, representing Kitching, agreed that the benefit figure arising from her offending was £32,708.94.

But, Mr West added: “The prosecution has been unable to identify any realisable assets of the defendant and, so, we would ask to make a nominal order in the sum of £5, to hopefully keep this open if she comes into funds at a later stage.”

Judge Simon Hickey agreed to make the order and said she must pay the token £5 within a fortnight or risk seven days in prison in default.

He added that the situation remains “alive” should the defendant acquire significant sums of money in future.