A THIEVING market manager tried to cover up stealing from her employer by blaming a colleague and dragging her elderly grandmother into the dispute, a court heard yesterday.

Joanne Price, former manager of Durham Markets Company, told police a mysterious £5,000 deposit into her bank account was a gift from her grandmother to help her buy a house, Durham Crown Court heard.

In fact, it was rent stolen from market traders.

The attempted cover-up led to her grandmother being forced to deny the claim to police.

Later, Price suggested a workmate might have stolen rent and persuaded traders to lie to the police.

The 38-year-old was very confused, is now being treated for depression, could not say where the money went and had nothing left, Yvonne Taylor, mitigating, said.

But Judge Guy Whitburn said he believed Price knew where the money was.

Price, of Newshouse Road, Esh Winning, County Durham, was manager of Durham Markets Company, which runs Durham’s award-winning indoor market, for more than ten years.

She admitted stealing £7,824 between May 1 and 31 last year and £75 on November 27, but only shortly before her trial was due to begin, last month.

In the first case, Price was due to deposit £7,824 in rent into Barclays Bank, in Durham Market Place.

She completed a paying-in slip on May 4 but the bank never received the cash.

The same day, she used the same branch to put £5,000 into her personal account, Martin Towers, prosecuting, said.

Price was allowed to return to work but then stole £75, saying bad weather had meant no rent was collected.

Sentencing, Judge Whitburn told Price: “You behaved disgracefully to those who worked with you and to the company that trusted you.”

Price, who has been sacked, was sentenced to six months in prison, suspended for two years. She was ordered to pay compensation of £7,899 and court costs of £1,200 within 12 months.