A CLEANER who admitted stealing more than £1,000 from the Duchess of Westminster has been ordered to perform 100 hours of unpaid work.
Paula Louise Jones, of Kent Road, Lodge, Wrexham, was a trusted member of staff at the Eaton Hall estate at Eccleston, near Chester.
But after five years working in a job she enjoyed, the 49-year-old stole an unknown value of money in Sterling and Euros from the private quarters of Eaton Hall, the home of Natalia Ayesha Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster, and Gerald Cavendish Grosvenor, 6th Duke of Westminster.
At West Cheshire Magistrates Court yesterday she was sentenced to a 12 month community order and told to complete 100 hours of unpaid work, after pleading guilty at an earlier hearing on January 31.
Amanda Roberts, prosecuting, said between September 30 and December 16, last year, the Duchess became aware money was disappearing from her handbag and a desk in the sitting room.
Referring to a statement the Duchess made to police, Mrs Roberts said her suspicions were aroused after she withdrew £1,000 for a European holiday and general use. Between £600 and £800 was put in the sitting room desk and the remainder in her handbag.
But she later noticed some of the notes in her bag were missing.
On a second occasion, another £1,000 was placed in her handbag which was left in the nursery.
Eight days later, the Duchess found some of the money had gone but she was not sure how much.
She checked and discovered cash was also missing from the desk.
The incidents were reported to the estate’s operations manager Ian Samuel, before a further 100 euros went missing from the handbag, again having been left in the nursery.
On this occasion, only four people had access to the private quarters, one of whom was Mrs Jones.
Covert CCTV cameras were installed in the nursery and sitting room, Mrs Roberts said.
On December 16, the Duchess left money in her bag in the nursery before leaving the house at 9am.
When the head butler checked the bag, two notes were missing and CCTV footage showed Jones taking notes out of the Duchess’ purse, Mrs Roberts said.
Jones admitted taking the money which the Duchess estimated in total came to more than £1,000.
Interviewed by police, Jones said she was guilty but she didn’t know why she had taken the money.
“She said she didn’t need the money but it made her feel better and that’s why she kept doing it,” said Mrs Roberts.
No claim for compensation was submitted by the claimant.
Ian Barnes, defending, said his client had suffered from depression since the death of her husband 20 years ago and found taking money ‘made a slight lift in her mood’.
He said her depression had been exacerbated by difficulties at work.
“It was a job she enjoyed very much but towards the end things started to change,” said Mr Barnes.
He said Mrs Jones felt some colleagues were turning against her and talking about her mental health problems behind her back.
“On one occasion she became aware of money that was unattended,” he said, “and for some reason decided to take it.
“She was not struggling with financial problems and can’t remember what the money was used for – it was just added to the household pot – but once she took the money it made a slight lift of her mood.”
Mr Barnes said it was clear Mrs Jones did not take what she had done lightly and had immediately resigned to minimise trouble for her employers.
“She speaks very fondly of the Duke and Duchess and feels very badly she’s let them down as they put a great degree of trust in her,” he said.”
Mr Barnes said Jones was remorseful and “utterly ashamed and extremely apologetic”. Because of her actions she was unemployed for the first time in her life.
As well as the community order and 100 hours of unpaid work, Magistrates ordered Jones to pay prosecution costs of £85 and a victim surcharge of £60.
See full story in the Chester Leader