A MOTHER who stole £58,000 from her employer, and used some of the money to pay for her son's wedding, has been sent to prison.

Hazel Leece, aged 59, pleaded guilty to theft from Anne Grundy, the owner of family-run Casson Fold Day Nursery in Daisy Hill, where she was manager.

Mrs Grundy said she "hopes this will bring closure" and that they can now "draw a line under it."

At Bolton Crown Court, Judge Martin Walsh described the thefts between January 2012 and December 2017 as "persistent dishonesty over a protractive period of time."

Colin Buckle, defending, said a "financial crisis" led Leece to steal, citing mortgage payments of £65,000 that her family could not meet.

Leece, of Barnacre Avenue, Bolton, is understood to have sold her family home about one month ago, and is now living in a caravan in Garstang, She has no previous convictions.

The theft was first discovered by Mrs Grundy in March 2018, when she noticed a £78 spend from the nursery account on January 25 that year, at M&S.

Stella Massey, prosecuting, said: "The defendant told Mrs Grundy it was for new staff uniforms. Mrs Grundy said they had not needed these and became concerned. The next day, the defendant brought the money to Mrs Grundy to reimburse her, which she found strange. She asked for a summary of payments week-by-week and day-by-day.

"When she checked the entries, there were entries missing and the sums did not add up."

Mrs Grundy, aged 79, set up the nursery in 2003 and is co-owner with husband Harry, aged 82.

She told the Bolton News "it went from bad to worse" as she began to investigate the accounts.

Her accountant Andrew Wardle uncovered further "discrepancies" which revealed that £58,639.85 had been stolen during the five-year period.

Mrs Grundy said: "We were all in a state of shock. I trusted the woman. I just can't believe it."

She praised staff at nursery who have been "very supportive."

The court heard that Leece kept the accounts of cash payments made my parents of children attending the nursery, and she had charge of the current account used for day-to-day expenses.

Judge Walsh said: "There may have been some weaknesses in the accounting systems used at this nursery.

"Advantage was taken of parents who were paying for childcare by not accounting for the money appropriately to the managers."

The prosecution added: "For example, three parents made payments and only two were accounted for."

Leece was one of about 19 members of staff employed at Casson Fold.

During an interview in April this year, Leece said she had taken the money "for a period of less than two years", due to financial pressures at home and because she had been left to deal with the nursery on her own while Mrs Grundy was abroad, the prosecution said.

Leece would take money twice a month, sometimes £80 and on occasion £200, the court heard.

The prosecution said: "Leece now accepts that the period was between 2012 and 2017."

Since her dismissal from the nursery, Leece has been employed at Bolton bakers Carrs Pasties and at a supermarket.

Mr Buckle said: "The impact upon the defendant, brought about by her own horrendous error of judgement, has been significant. This has been the worst 12 to 18 months of her life.

"There must be an identifiable reason why a lady in her 50s, of previous impeccable character, chooses to take this course, and continue it for the length of time she did. It comes down to a financial crisis. There were mortgage payments of £65,000 that her family could not meet. Secondly, they remortgaged the house and pertained £10,000 to invest in their son's wedding. They prioritised something they should not have done.

"Mrs Leece was earning the majority of the family income because her husband was diagnosed with asbestosis which reduced his ability to work.

"It is a case of a crisis in the family which proliferated over some time and that effectively was the trigger."

However, Judge Walsh described the crime as a "persistent theft over five years."

Sentencing, he said: "You stole on a frequent and repetitive basis from your employer. These thefts were taking place on a weekly basis.

"Although there is no evidence of high living, you were in receipt of a reasonable income of £1,700 per month NET. You used money to pay off credit cards, catalogue debts and also to fund your son's wedding.

""It seems to me, regrettably, that the only sentence that can be imposed is immediate custody."

Leece was sentenced to 34 weeks in prison, of which 12 will be on licence.

It is understood that Leece will be appealing the court's decision.