A WOMAN could be facing her first prison sentence after a dramatic change of pleas saw her admit stealing £47,367 from the village primary school where she was secretary for 13 years.

The warning was given to defendant Sharon Dickinson after she admitted fraud and theft from St Michael’s Church of England Primary School, in Bishop Middleham, offending said to have taken place between October, 2010 and January 30, 2017.

She denied the charges at Durham Crown Court in September 2018, but, at what was to be the start of the second day of her trial, when head teacher Lynsey Vollans was to be called as the first prosecution witness, defence counsel Jonathan Walker asked for the indictment to be put again to his client.

The Northern Echo: Sharon Dickinson now admits stealing £47,367, between 2010 and 2017, from St Michael's CoE Primary School, in Bishop Middleham, where she was the secretarySharon Dickinson now admits stealing £47,367, between 2010 and 2017, from St Michael's CoE Primary School, in Bishop Middleham, where she was the secretary

Mr Walker said following the conclusion of the opening day of the trial, on Monday, in which prosecution barrister Phillip Morley opened the case for the Crown, he had a conference with Dickinson after which she decided to change her pleas.

When the clerk put the charges to her again, she said: “I plead guilty”.

As the trial was already underway Judge Jonathan Carroll had to go through the formality of asking the jury to give verdicts, based on Dickinson’s admissions and his own directions.

The foreman said the jury agreed on guilty verdicts.

Mr Walker asked the judge to adjourn to allow preparation of a pre-sentence probation report.

“She’s of previous good character and I would apply for commission of a report.

“It would also allow time to confirm with her current employer whether it would be likely that employment would be kept open.”

The court heard that Dickinson was suspended when suspicions arose, on January 31, 2017, and then quit her job before a scheduled interview.

Following her plea change, Judge Jonathan Carroll said: “If someone was before me today with a long list of convictions I would not consider anything other than custody.

“But, she’s a lady of good character with no previous convictions, and I have to do justice to the case for both the prosecution and defence.

“The sentencing guidelines indicate the custody threshold is crossed with a length of up to two years, but I’ll consider whether that can be suspended with other alternatives like unpaid work.”

Addressing Dickinson, the judge said: “I don’t want you to be unrealistic. All sentencing options remain open, up to and including custody.

“You should make your plans at least on the possibility that you might be facing a custodial sentence.”

Bailing 50-year-old Dickinson, of Burdon Close, Newton Aycliffe, the judge told her to return to the court for sentence on February 21.

Crime proceeds inquiries will now follow against her.