A COUNTER clerk walked free from court with her good name intact yesterday after being cleared of stealing from post office customers.

Stephanie Leanne Gibson was accused of pocketing payments made by people using the postal facility within the Mills convenience store in South Pelaw, Chester-le-Street, between May and September, 2006.

Durham Crown Court was told that suspicions arose after customers were informed that various accounts were in deficit as bill payments and instalments were overdue.

But in each case, they said the payment had previously been made at the post office at the store in Hilda Avenue, during 2006.

Ms Gibson, who worked parttime at the premises, was suspended and arrested, but denied any wrongdoing.

She denied an initial total of 16 counts of theft, for sums totalling about £2,500, and one of false accounting, relating to allegedly falsified entries in a customer's National Saving and Investment account book.

The 28-year-old mother of three, of Ernest Street, Pelton, near Chester-le-Street, told the court: "I just wouldn't do that", when the allegations were put to her as she gave evidence during the six-day trial.

She said "a million and one things go wrong in a post office", and claimed discrepancies often arose at the branch.

She said: "I dealt with hundreds of transactions each month at the post office and I can't even remember the individual ones I'm accused of taking money from."

Three of the charges, relating to payments totalling £300 made by an elderly customer, were dropped by the prosecution at the start of the trial.

Formal not guilty verdicts were returned by the jury on the directions of Judge Peter Armstrong.

But the jury yesterday recorded not guilty verdicts on the remaining 11 theft charges and the single count of false accounting.

Discharging Ms Gibson, Judge Armstrong told her: "You have been acquitted of all counts, so you leave the court without a stain on your character."

After the verdict was returned, Judge Armstrong made a costs order to cover Ms Gibson's costs during the hearing.