A woman who stole thousands of pounds from a children’s nursery has been spared a jail sentence – after her ex-boss wrote a letter begging the sheriff to show her mercy.
Sharon Winning embezzled £28,000 from the Les Enfants business in the Highland capital as she battled mounting debts.
But nursery owner Denise Barras forgave her when she discovered the depth of her 44-year-old manager’s financial problems.
At Inverness Sheriff Court yesterday, Winning broke down and wept as Sheriff Margaret Neilson ordered her to carry out 300 hours of unpaid work as an alternative to custody.
After the hearing, Mrs Barras, who owns three nurseries, said: “She was a friend of mine and I trusted her. But what good would it have done for her to go to jail?
“The money is gone and I will never see it again. If she had come to me and told me of her debt problems, I would have done what I could to help her, instead of her doing something dishonest.
“I could not bear the thought of her going to jail and her not being able to be with her two children. It would be so difficult for the children to understand that they are not going to see their mother on a daily basis.
“It would serve no useful purpose putting her behind bars.”
Sheriff Neilson told Winning: “I have taken into account your previous good character and the feelings of your former employer who wrote a very detailed, insightful, and articulate letter in your favour.
“Had her attitude been any different, I would have imposed a very different sentence today.”
Winning, now of 64 Castlemilk Drive, Glasgow, admitted embezzling the cash from the nursery between January 2011 and May 2013.
The court heard that she and her husband moved to Inverness from Glasgow in 2006 when his work took him to the Highlands.
But they left behind debts and built up more in the north when they could not get a council house.
Fiscal depute Roderick Urquhart told the court: “A check was made by the directors and they discovered a shortfall of what they thought was a few hundred pounds.
“Cash had not been banked in May and when they investigated further, they discovered that £28,000 had been taken.
“They examined CCTV footage at Les Enfants and Winning came in. She asked what they were doing and then said ‘I think we need to have a chat’.
“She said she had only borrowed the cash but did not know how much she had taken. It came as a shock because she was regarded as a friend and they trusted her. Asked why, she replied ‘desperation’.
“She also made a full confession to police.”
Winning’s agent, solicitor Willie Young, said: “She started work with the nursery in 2009 and became manager in 2011.
“They were paying a not insignificant rent privately for a fairly modest home, credit card debt was mounting and they were being pursued by a number of agencies.
“Then her husband took ill with a serious heart condition and was unable to work. She started taking fairly modest sums of a few hundred pounds with the intention of paying it back.
“But then it snowballed out of control until there was no prospect of it being repaid. It was inevitable that her criminal act was going to be detected and it came as a relief to her that it did.
“She has lost her career and all the respect of her family and friends.”
Winning declined to comment as she left court.