THE secretary of a small village primary school used its funds to meet financial debts she built up through years of living beyond her means, a court heard.

Sharon Dickinson, now 50, used the trust placed in her as long term financial administrator of St Michael’s Church of England School, in Bishop Middleham, to steal of total of £47,367, from January 2010 to January 2017, when her offending began coming to light, despite her strenuous efforts to cover her tracks.

Durham Crown Court heard questions were raised over a dehumidifier, ordered by Dickinson and sent to her home in Newton Aycliffe.

As financial investigations by Durham Education Authority uncovered further anomalies in school finances, she was called for a meeting, but never attended and, instead, submitted her resignation, on January 30, 2017.

Despite “overwhelming evidence” against her, she denied theft and fraud, which led to staff members past and present being primed to give evidence at trial, last month.

But, having heard the prosecution opening to the case, she changed her pleas to guilty at the start of day two of the hearing.

Dickinson, of Burdon Close, who is of previous good character, returned for sentence yesterday, when victim statements were read from the school’s head, Lynsey Vollans, her deputy Beth Dawson, and Paul Bradley, of Durham County Council.

Ms Vollens said Dickinson’s activities not only breached the trust placed in her by St Michael’s, but also put in question parents’ trust in the school itself.

She said the school has had to pay for an additional accounting system for payments by parents.

Jonathan Walker, mitigating, presented a series of references to the court, but added: “It’s utterly shameful she let her avarice and financial situation get the better of her.”

Judge Jonathan Carroll said her behaviour was, “shockingly disgraceful”, taking advantage school’s inadequate accounting system for her own ends.

He imposed an 18-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and ordered Dickinson to perform 180-hours’ unpaid work, with a six-month 8pm to 7am home curfew.

A crime proceeds hearing will take place on July 10.