A senior court official was yesterday ordered to pay more than £15,500 in compensation after misusing public funds.
Pamela Davison diverted nearly £23,000 of public cash going to Wearside Magistrates' Court into a bank account which she opened without authorisation.
The account was set up to fund staff leaving presents and outings but an internal and police inquiry into its use found that £15,540 was unaccounted for, Preston Crown Court was told.
Sentencing Davison, 54, of Murton, County Durham, to a two-year community service order, Judge Anthony Russell said there was no evidence that she had committed theft, but she had clearly lied about some uses of the funds.
The court heard Davison paid off a credit card bill of nearly £1,500 via the account and was also said to have falsely claimed a staff member was given cash to pay for medical and travelling costs for their seriously ill child.
It emerged that as a result of her actions the Sunderland-based court had been subject to special measures being imposed by Her Majesty's Court Service, which had classified it as "at risk". Davison admitted misconduct in a public office and furnishing false information, namely falsely claiming for 20 hours in overtime work.
Jeremy Donne, prosecuting, said Davison was appointed principal administration manager following the amalgamation of Sunderland and Houghton le Spring Magistrates' Courts. Her role was to ensure all financial regulations were adhered to and that the court's expenditure was within budget.
In early 2001, chief clerk Stephen Rowbottom suggested a staff fund should be established to lift poor morale. The account was opened in April 2001 with a cheque for £1,781.41.
The next substantial amount into the account was a cheque for £6,395.
Mr Donne explained that the money came as a result of a man called Singh being prosecuted by Customs & Excise in January 1997 when he was asked to provide a surety of £50,000 as a condition of bail.
A confiscation order was later imposed against Singh and the sum of £6,395 in interest accrued was sent by Leeds Magistrates' Court to Davison. The interest was put in an expenses account and then transferred to Davison's account.
The money then became the subject of an inquiry by the Lord Chancellor's department after a ruling was made to overturn the confiscation order and return the cash to Singh.
Davison did accept that a cheque of £1,494 had been made to pay her credit card bill. She said she used a similar sum of money to pay for goods to refurbish a staff room at the court. This claim was refuted by her colleagues.
She also claimed that hundreds of pounds were used to clear rubbish from the yard at the court. The caretaker denied this was the case.
Mr Donne said the most "cynical lie" involved a junior staff member which Davison said had been given money to fund medical and travelling costs for her seriously ill child.
The misuse of public funds was uncovered when Davison was on leave and her deputy noticed she had made a false claim for overtime. Davison continued to make further claims which were picked up by an internal audit and led to an inquiry in September 2005.
The defendant was arrested in March 2006 and denied any wrongdoing.
Defending, Mr Patrick Field, said Davison had been subjected to an heavy workload as a result of the amalgamation and the non-replacement of senior staff who had retired.
He said: "She does not seek to blame anyone for what she has done but she made no attempt to conceal the accounts which was not her idea to open. She also did not use the account to finance a lavish lifestyle."
He said she had now lost her job and her good name and 25 years of impeccable work for the Courts Service.
Judge Russell told Davison: "I accept you were not motivated by greed but you do appear to have lied about some of the use of the monies." He added though that these were not cases of theft.
Davison was ordered to pay the compensation to Her Majesty's Court Services within 12 months. She also received a two-year community service order.
Charges of misconduct in a public office against Mr Rowbottom, 49, of Morpeth, Northumberland and his deputy Mr Edmund Cleary, 50, of Washington, Tyne and Wear, were dismissed last month when Davison pleaded guilty.