A CHARITY worker has escaped a prison sentence by the “skin of her teeth” after raiding more than £20k from Joanna Lumley’s cause.
Shameless Kirsty McDonnell posed for a picture with the Absolutely Fabulous star while she was stealing cash from the charity Home-Start in West London.
The mum-of two escaped prison ‘by the skin of her teeth’ after stealing from Joanna Lumley’s Home-Start charity
The mother-of-two was spared jail by a judge to allow her to care for her two young kids – despite stealing from the charity which supports struggling families.
Harrow Crown Court heard that the 29-year-old had stolen £21,304 from the charity for just over a year claiming that she used the funds to get her out a of ‘deep’ gambling hole.
The Barnet, Brent and Harrow branch of the charity discovered the black hole in their finances and launched an internal inquiry where McDonnell admitted to what she had done only after being confronted.
Prosecuting Dipan Varsani told the court that McDonnell was one of the few people with access to the online banking accounts for the charity.
He added: “There was an internal investigation at the charity regarding the finances that had been clearly siphoned off.
“She was interviewed as part of that inquiry and she admitted what she had done.
‘The charity is the ultimate victim here’Prosecuting Dipan Varsani
“She was spoken to on the phone in a call which was recorded. She reiterated her admission but she said that it had only started that year”.
He said that the charity was the “ultimate victim”.
He added: “She said ‘I wanted to make things right, it was just to get by, I never had intentions.’”McDonnell also initially agreed that she would pay back the full amount by October 2018, but failed to do so meaning the case proceeded to court.
Mr Varsani said: “When she was interviewed by the police she gave a prepared statement which read; ‘I accept to taking money from my employers, I was in financial difficulty and I accept that it was wrong and unacceptable.
“‘I would like to apologise to my colleagues and friends and family who I have let down.’”
The court heard that McDonnell had initially started gambling a few pounds in December 2015 but after winning £1000 a year later her habit spiralled out of control.
Out of control gambling habit
She transferred the £21k over 30 transactions, with the highest amount being £2,000 in one go.
The court heard that she had taken the money to cover her rent as she had gambled away her wages, and that her two young children would face difficulties if she was caged.
Defending McDonnell, Emma Hayfield told the court: “She is embarrassed. She is the first to apologise to Home Start and her colleagues.
“Her remorse is genuine and very significant. This is not a lady who was living an extravagant lifestyle.
“She feels ashamed, it is her mess, she got herself in such a big hole and she didn’t know how to get out of it.”
Home-Start is an international charity and the website for the UK organisation says: “Home-Start volunteers help families with young children deal with the challenges they face.
“We support parents as they learn to cope, improve their confidence and build better lives for their children.”
‘Aware’ of the risks involved
The charity says it works with 28,000 families and 60,000 children across the country, with TV star Lumley known to support the organisation with an annual ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ Carol service.
Bizarrely McDonnell is STILL listed on Barnet Council’s website as being the charity’s finance officer.
Judge Rosa Dean told her that she was “sceptical” about her gambling addiction, but added: “You were aware this charity was struggling financially and you were aware that there was a risk of employees losing their jobs.
“You have escaped custody by the skin of your teeth, it is only for the sake of your children, and your children now must come first.”
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She was sentenced to 20 months custody suspended for two years, and must complete 300 hours unpaid work and 25 days rehabilitation requirement.
Judge Dean added that she would pay £4,000 compensation within 28 days and if the charity wished to pursue her for the remainder of the money through civil action they could.
Rex Features The Absolutely Fabulous star supports the Home-Start charity which helps struggling families
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