A MOTHER-OF-TWO facing prison for stealing more than £26,000 worth of lottery tickets from the newsagents where she worked has been given three months to find a way to repay the cash.

Lisa Johnston stole thousands of lottery tickets and scratch cards from Youngs newsagents in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, and used the winnings to help pay off debts of £30,000.

Her actions nearly bankrupted the family-run business, with owners Diane and Christopher Young forced to take out a large loan to prevent their life’s work going to ruin and protect 30 jobs across three shops, one in Newton Aycliffe and two inWetherby, North Yorkshire.

Today (Thursday, April 30) Durham Crown Court heard Mr Young had calculated the actual loss as being about £44,000 but police could only prove Johnston responsible for £26,810 with absolute certainty.

Judge Christopher Prince said the married 35-year-old had shown no remorse for her actions and an “utter disregard verging on vindictiveness” towards her employer of 15 months.

He said the fact she had young children was not enough to stop her going to prison, adding: “Without sounding hard-hearted they are her children and when she was stealing this money she knew she may go to prison.

“It is her job to think of them more than it is my job. Good mothers do not put themselves at risk of being sent to prison by repeatedly offending.”

Johnston, of Skerne Way, Darlington, pleaded guilty to fraud and three charges of stealing lottery tickets and scratch cards from her employer between September 2013 and March last year.

Jonathan Walker, prosecuting, said staff at Tesco in Newton Aycliffe had become suspicious of Johnston after she repeatedly brought in large numbers of lottery tickets to check for winners without ever buying any in store.

One employee’s suspicions deepened when he saw Johnston behind the till at Youngs.

He obtained the Lottery terminal number for the newsagents and compared it to the next bunch of tickets brought in by Johnston. The numbers matched.

Mr Walker said: “Mr Young had known something was wrong with his business for some time and had called meetings to which the defendant attended. He outlined to all staff members that the business was suffering considerable losses and was in jeopardy. Her actions had a serious impact.”

Simon Perkins, for Johnston, said his client and her husband’s debts spiralled after they were forced to sell their house in negative equity.

He said she had used the winnings, some £6,000, to pay off debts, adding: “It started out as what might be considered petty thieving, taking tickets which were printed out accidentally, but snowballed from there.”

Mr Perkins asked for three months for his client to come up with a repayment plan and identify ways to free up cash, including moving into cheaper rented accommodation.

Judge Prince agreed, stating a willingness to repay the money was the most important mitigating factor.

Outside of court, Mr Young said: “You cannot run a business like ours without trusting people. She has shown no remorse; we’ve heard nothing from her.

“When you are 53 and know you will be working the rest of your working life, getting up at 4.30am, to pay off debts because someone has stolen from you it is a bitter pill to swallow.”

The case was adjourned until Friday, July 24.

Johnston received unconditional bail.