AN accountant who stole £23,000 from the company she worked for left colleagues feeling “betrayed” and the firm fearing bankruptcy during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Patricia Ballard, 63, siphoned off the cash from Stationery UK Ltd over a year long period.

Chelmsford Crown Court heard Ballard, who was entrusted to oversee all of the firm’s finances, made 21 separate payments into her own bank account.

When the company, which employs nine staff and is based in Feering, discovered what Ballard had done, she was immediately sacked and driven straight to the police station.

The court heard the £23,375 stolen amounted to two thirds of the company’s profits that year.

She admitted one charge of theft by an employee.

Gavin Burrell, mitigating, said Ballard had stolen the funds to help to pay off debts as part of a “foolish” bid to get by and support her children.

“The defendant never took the money with the intention of trying to have a lavish lifestyle,” he said.

Judge Timothy Walker sentenced Ballard, of Winchester Road, Colchester, to a year and eight months imprisonment, suspended for two years.

She must complete 30 rehabilitation activity requirement days and 240 hours of unpaid work.

Speaking after the hearing Beverley Hughes, company director, said: “The staff and directors at the company were very upset and distressed to learn what Patricia had been doing in stealing from the company that we all work so very hard for.

“We are a family run business and we treated her as such.

“A sister company had also given her daughter a job, which she has since resigned from on hearing what her mother had done. Not only had she affected her own life, but also that of her daughter.”