Cumbria Crack

Mum who stole £51k from Carlisle kids’ nursery narrowly avoids jail

Christine Rowley arriving at Carlisle Crown Court

A WOMAN who pinched more than £51,000 while working at a Carlisle children’s nursery has narrowly avoided prison.

Christine Rowley, 42, stole cash for more than four years while employed as a “highly-trusted” administrator at First Friends in the city’s Belle Vue.

When tackled amid concerns over her ability to fulfil that role, mum-of-three Rowley produced bogus building society statements to inflate a £3,000 nursery balance by a whopping £50,000. She was found to have overpaid her own wages by more than £18,000, paid cheques to herself, failed to bank cash and even raided a “snack pot” fund for the pre-school kids.

First Friends Nursery

Carlisle Crown Court heard staff and committee members were oblivious as her criminal conduct caused the nursery company to be dissolved and have its charitable status withdrawn – because she re-directed mail to her own address.

In a victim impact statement, First Friends chairperson Claire Howe described the impact of Rowley’s stealing as “devastating”. Staff had faced uncertainty over jobs and wages; there were worries the nursery might have to close; while attendee numbers dropped amid rumours over its future.

All of the stolen £51,359.98 had been paid back, Rowley, of Oglanby Terrace, Fletchertown, returning almost £20,000 while her father contributed the rest.

She was sentenced today (THURS) having admitted one theft and four fraud charges.

Rowley – who spent her ill-gotten gains on “daily living” – was described as “genuinely remorseful” and “terrified” by the prospect of prison. Her children had previously attended the nursery.

After considering background reports and references, along with personal and family information, Judge Peter Davies suspended a two-year jail term for two years.

Her “dishonest” and “fraudulent” conduct, said Judge Davies, was a “thoughtless, selfish, inconsiderate and deceitful thing to do”. “It is only by the skin of your teeth that you have avoided prison,” the judge added.

Rowley must also complete 300 hours’ unpaid work.