A HOOK woman who spent more than £11,000 she stole from Pembrokeshire County Council on “comfort shopping” has narrowly avoided prison.

Helen Angharad Mountjoy, 33, of New Road, pleaded guilty to stealing £11,426.86 between July 8 2010 and September 30 2013 when she appeared before Haverfordwest Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, April 2.

Mountjoy had worked at the Pupil Referral Unit (PRU), Neyland, since 2006, where she was employed as a business manager to oversee the finances of the school.

Using a purchasing card issued to the PRU specifically for school business, Mountjoy bought nearly £11,500 worth of items.

This included more than £150 on make-up, jewellery and nail varnish from Tesco, hair straighteners and other beauty items from Boots totalling more than £230, £149 on a mobile phone from Tesco, and hundreds of pounds in Argos gift cards.

Appearing before His Honour Judge Christopher Vosper QC at Swansea Crown Court on Thursday (May 1), Mountjoy was sentenced to 16 months in prison suspended for two years.

She was also sentenced to two years’ supervision with 150 hours unpaid work, and ordered to pay £11,426.86 in compensation and £340 towards prosecution costs.

The transactions were discovered when Scott Harper visited the PRU last July before starting work as a headteacher in September.

Mr Harper came across the purchases when he was looking through a box file of purchase card invoices while Mountjoy was on leave for her wedding.

He and two other senior staff members drew up a 10-page list of suspicious transactions. Mountjoy was arrested on September 20 2013.

In April James Subbiani, defending, told Haverfordwest Magistrates’ Court his client was not stealing “to live the life of Riley or the high life or anything like that”.

He added: “This is a young lady who has really low self-esteem issues. She has suffered, and suffers, from eating disorders.

“What she has been doing here is analogous to comfort eating to someone with an eating disorder.

“She has been comfort shopping to build self-esteem into a life where there is no self-esteem.”

He added: “What she has done here is when she is feeling low she has used this card, not to buy items which she cannot afford, but ordinary items that are not special or valuable - items which are in her mind are constructing her self-worth to a degree because otherwise her self-worth is empty.”

Mountjoy had done nothing at all to “cover her tracks” and every one of the items were signed off by a supervisor, the magistrates’ court heard.