A FORMER shop manager who stole more than £16,000 worth of cash and scratch cards has avoided immediate custody by 'the skin of her teeth'.

Kelly Harding took more than £6,000 out the safe at one of Redcar's McColl's stores before quitting her job in May this year.

However, six weeks later she used the entry fob of a friend to return to the shop on Queen Street and plunder another £6,000 in cash and £3,500 worth of scratch cards.

Teesside Crown Court heard how the 46-year-old stole the cash to pay of the drug debts she racked up funding her cocaine addiction.

Jon Harley, prosecuting, said the defendant also claimed she took the cash as she felt aggrieved the company were not taking her illness seriously.

The defendant's dishonesty was discovered when the company brought in an investigator to check out the discrepancies in the shop's accounts.

Her initial investigation discovered that £6,600 had been stolen from the safe in April.

Mr Harley said in June there was another investigation after cash and scratch cards had gone missing, resulting in the suspension of an innocent shop worker.

He said Harding has used her friend's pass card to get into the shop and tried to hide her identity by covering her face and moving a CCTV camera to cover her tracks.

When police arrested Harding a small bag of cocaine was recovered from her home.

Harding, of Alfred Street, Redcar, pleaded guilty to three charges of theft, burglary and possession of cocaine.

Shaun Dryden, in mitigation, said his client had been a good employee for a number of years before getting in dispute with her employer over unauthorised absences from work.

He added: "With the background of the prescription drugs she was taking for her medical problems that she began to use alcohol to assist her sleeping.

"Then from using alcohol, she began to use illegal drugs and she started to use cocaine and became addicted to it and she built up drug debts which she was able to pay off.

"She became frightened because the drug dealers were threatening her because she wasn't paying her drug debts and she thought her only option was to steal the money from the store."

Mr Dryden said the defendant was embarrassed by her actions and fully admitted her offences.

Recorder Anthony Dunne sentenced Harding to two years in prison, suspended for two years.

"Your actions in stealing from your employer were a gross breach of trust," he said.

"You were under pressure to repay the money you owed to your cocaine supplier, instead of seeking help you stole the cash as a solution to your problem."

Harding was also ordered to pay £6,000 in compensation to her former employer.

He added: "You have escaped custody by the skin of your teeth."

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