Hartlepool school dinner lady who stole £60,000 likely to sell house as judge orders her to hand over assets of more than £25,000

Judge Sean Morris ordered Paula Kester, from Hartlepool, to pay 25,765 within three months, or face another nine months in prison in default.
Judge Sean Morris ordered Paula Kester, from Hartlepool, to pay 25,765 within three months, or face another nine months in prison in default.

A school cook who stole £60,000 in dinner money is facing the loss of her home after being ordered to repay more than £25,000.

Paula Kester took the cash while working at St Hild's School in Hartlepool, where she was senior cook.

St Hild's School in Hartlepool.

St Hild's School in Hartlepool.

Kester, who was employed by Hartlepool Borough Council, was jailed for 10 months last year.

Prosecutors mounted a separate investigation to see if Kester has any assets which can be seized as the proceeds of crime.

Kester's biggest asset is her house in Hartlepool, Teesside Crown Court heard.

"Ownership is a 50/50 situation with her husband," said Martin Towers, prosecuting.

"The benefit from crime has been assessed as £60,666.

"The available assets are £25,765."

Martin Scarborough, defending, said the figures were agreed with the prosecution.

"It looks inevitable the house will have to be sold," he added.

"We would ask for the maximum three months to pay this order to give time for the sale process to be completed."

Judge Sean Morris ordered Kester to pay £25,765 within three months, or face another nine months in prison in default.

The judge ordered the money to be paid to Hartlepool Borough Council as compensation.

Kester, 55, of Percy Street, Hartlepool, was convicted after a trial last August of four charges of theft between September, 2012, and April, 2016.

The court heard she took advantage of 'slack accounting procedures' to regularly pocket hundreds of pounds each week of dinner money.

Pupils paid the cash into machines at the school.

Kester was in charge of emptying the machines, and preparing the cash to be banked.

"The machines produced a printout of what they had taken," said Mr Towers.

"No one at the school or local authority routinely checked the printouts against the bank books prepared by Kester.

"Thus it was fairly easy for her to keep some, or sometimes all, of the money paid in to the machines on a particular day.

"She did this by under-declaring what had been taken, or on some days, not declaring any takings at all."

Kester denied theft, claiming the large amounts of cash going through her bank account was from Lotto wins and sales on ebay.

Mr Towers observed there was no evidence any of those transactions took place.

Kester was jailed for 10 months in October.

She has since been released from that sentence.