Court blunder robs playgroup of £4,000
A COURT blunder has stopped a Cirencester playgroup from reclaiming thousands of pounds, stolen by a former treasurer.
Cheltenham Magistrates Court has admitted a mistake was made when Claire Thompson was ordered to pay back £9,000, which she stole from Lewis Lane Playgroup between September 2011 and April 2012.
On August 8, the 36-year-old walked away from Cheltenham Magistrate's Court with a 26-week prison sentence, suspended for two years, was ordered to pay back the full amount to the charity and carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.
Last week the Standard revealed playgroup members’ shock when a letter from the court said the charity would actually only receive £5,000 in compensation.
It has since been revealed that after the court case was closed, legal representatives realised that the compensation sentence passed was beyond the legal capabilities of a Magistrate’s Court.
Within half an hour of the court session closing, it had been reopened to change the £9,000 compensation sentence to the lower, maximum figure of £5,000.
However, the playgroup committee was not informed of this blunder until last Thursday – seven weeks after the sentence had been passed.
Kelly said: "They should have sent us a letter straight away, not waited this long. It’s ridiculous that no one there knew how much could be given. They’ve made this huge mistake and we’re the ones suffering for it - it’s almost like we’ve been kicked in the teeth."
Deputy justices clerk Cheryl Benbow said: "It was an option to take it to Crown Court but it was decided that the case was more suitable to be dealt with at Magistrate's Court."
She added that the playgroup committee was entitled to pursue the claim through civil proceedings. Kelly said: "If we’d have known this to start off with we could have put forward our argument for it to go to a higher court so we could get our money back.
"We thought it was all done with and we wouldn’t have to worry about it any more but all of a sudden we’re fighting it again."
Mrs Thompson is believed to have indicated her willingness to pay back the amount in full to the court and could still choose to do so voluntarily.