A WOMAN who stole more than £26,000 of lottery tickets from the shop where she worked has been given six months grace by a judge so she can start repaying her former boss.

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 debt she accumulated after selling her house in negative equity.

Yesterday (August 5) she appeared at Durham Crown Court when Judge Christopher Prince adjourned sentencing for six months for her to set up monthly payments of £300 to former boss Christopher Young, with £600 upfront.

She will be brought back before the court next February for the judge to check she is making the payments, when he will look to defer sentencing another six months with the same aim.

Judge Prince told Johnston: “There is no reason Mr Young should have to work to pay back this loan, you can work until Mr Young receives it from you.”

If the 35-year-old mother of two misses any payment, Mr Young can take civil action to have the debt recovered and she could receive a custodial sentence.

The judge added: “If these sums aren’t paid she has to expect to go to prison.”

Johnston, who is thought to have moved from Skerne Way, Darlington, into a council house, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to fraud and three charges of theft from her employer between September 2013 and March 2014.

Her actions almost ruined the family-run business, with Mr Young and wife Diane forced to take out a large loan to save it and protect 30 jobs in three shops in Newton Aycliffe and Wetherby, North Yorkshire.

They have since put the business on the market.

Jonathon Walker, prosecuting, said that decision was not precipitated by Johnston’s actions but that it had not helped.

He said the actual loss to the couple was thought to be closer to £40,000 but police could only prove Johnston responsible for £26,810.

Johnston was caught after staff at Tesco, in Newton Aycliffe, grew suspicious of her repeatedly taking in large numbers of lottery tickets to check for winners without buying any in store.

When one employee saw Johnston behind the till at Youngs he discovered the Lottery terminal number for the newsagents matched the next tickets she presented.

Mr Young had known something was wrong with his business for some time and held staff meetings, which Johnston attended, when the risk to the business was discussed.

Simon Perkins, mitigating, said Johnston would try to overpay to clear the debt as soon as possible.

Johnston was given unconditional bail until next February.