A former Cheshire park manager defrauded her company out of nearly £20,000 to pay IVF treatment debts, a court has heard.

Joanne Pirie, of Grappenhall Road, Great Sutton, Ellesmere Port, previously pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity to the charge of fraud by abuse of position.

Appearing at Chester Crown Court on Friday, March 1, the 40-year-old was handed a suspended sentence.

Prosecuting, Rosemary Proctor said the fraud took place between October 8, 2019 and July 6, 2021. Pirie had begun employment as a park manager at Delamere Lake Sailing and Holiday Park in February 2019, but employers Haulfryn Ltd began an investigation into her work.

It was found Pirie had been taking customers' money and transferring it to her personal bank account, where she kept the money. The total amount defrauded was £19,782.50.

An investigation of Pirie's accounts had shown they had gone on loan repayments, repaying other debts, plus regular £40 Sky Bets and outgoings on the Postcode Lottery and the National Lottery.

In police interview, Pirie admitted the offence and said she had taken the money for IVF treatment.

She had no previous convictions and the court heard the employer did not provide a victim impact statement.

Sentencing Judge Simon Berkson said: "They are a large company but they can't afford to lose £20,000 from their coffers because one of their employers is stealing."

Defending, Adam Antoszkiw said there was a realistic prospect of rehabilitation, and there would be a significant impact on her 13-year-old child if Pirie was jailed.

The court heard the defendant has a house with her now-estranged husband, as she had lost her marriage as well as her previous good character.

Judge Berkson said Pirie appeared 'desperate for other children' and accepted she had stolen the funds for such treatment.

He added the defendant was a 'very good mother' to her 13-year-old child.

Pirie was handed a 12-month sentence, suspended for 18 months. During that time she must complete 15 days of a rehabilitation activity requirement and 150 hours unpaid work.

A Proceeds of Crime Act hearing, to be heard at the court on a future date, would set out how much Pirie would need to repay.