A FRAUDSTER who 'emptied the bank account' of a pre-school has been jailed.

Kelly Mills, of Thatch Close in Holmes Chapel, will spend more than a year behind bars after stealing around £57,000 from Goostrey Pre-School.

After initially denying doing so and trying to blame others, the 42-year-old eventually admitted to fraud and was sentenced on Friday (November 10) to two and a half years, of which she will serve at least half.

The pre-school’s manager Nicola Ellershaw and chair of trustees Anne-Louise Warren attended the hearing.

Speaking after, they said: “It has been four long years of stress, angst and for some trustees and staff it brings to a close a horrendous period in their lives.

“We are very relieved that today justice was served and the pre-school community can continue to flourish and grow thorough the dedication and unwavering care of staff and trustees.”

Prosecuting, Paulinus Barnes explained Mills' offending took place not long after she was hired as treasurer in September 2017.

Knutsford Guardian: Kelly MillsKelly Mills (Image: Cheshire Police)

Between November 2 of that year and November 5, 2019, she transferred more than £43,000 to herself from one of the school’s three bank accounts, having claimed she would be closing it.

In this time, she also spent around £13,000 with a debit card, bringing the total to £57,403.88.

“She had emptied the pre-school’s bank account,” said Mr Barnes.

When transferring funds to her own account, Mills used fake references such as HMRC, Ofsted and Cheshire East.

Her wrongdoings did not come to light until 2019, when the chair of trustees Mrs Warren asked for bank statements and was repeatedly given excuses as to why she could not have them.

By this point the school owed £3,000 to the Scout group who’s premises they use and was late on payments to HMRC.

When interviewed in December 2019, Mills denied the allegations and did so again when providing a defence case statement in June 2021, in which she tried to blame Mrs Warren.

Mills eventually pleaded guilty, a week before the trial was due to begin.

Mr Barnes added: “It took a lot of time and effort from volunteers to sort out the mess that had been made.

“Staff pay rises weren’t able to be awarded in 2018, 2019, or 2020 except to those on minimum and it is testament to the loyalty of staff that they are still willing to work for the pre-school.”

Mr Barnes continued, reading a statement provided by Mrs Warren.

“The impact of Mills’ actions cannot be measured. She has broken my trust in the worst possible way.

“Every waking thought has been taken up by Mills, how could someone do that to a charity?”

Her statement added that she and other staff had suffered anxiety, sleep and weight loss, and had clumps of hair fall out due to the ordeal.

Defending, Michael Lavery explained that Mills had been diagnosed with a depressive disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Entries from her diary during the offending period were read aloud in court, in which she expresses suicidal ideations.

Mr Lavery added Mills, a single mother of four young children aged, has no previous convictions and is currently working as an ambulance driver.

She is also undergoing chemotherapy for stage two cancer, with the course due to be complete by around the end of January.

“One can only imagine the difficulties she is experiencing and living through,” Mr Lavery said.

He continued, explaining that in her spending there was no large purchases, aside from a trip to Center Parcs.

“It added up to a considerable sum with nothing to show for it,” he said.

“There were no big tangible items for what has been serious offending. The drip, drip, drip taking led to a considerable pool of money.”

Sentencing, Judge Patrick Thompson said: “Your actions had a very significant impact on the school.

“Volunteers have had to put in an awful lot of work, first in uncovering your behaviour and secondly in keeping the school afloat and from bankruptcy.

“Your actions have affected an awful lot of people, including six members of staff.

“They have had no pay rises because you have stolen the money that would have paid for them.

“The chair paid them a bonus from her own pocket. You have stolen from children.

“It has caused a lack of trust in the school in the community, a community you live in.

“Many believed the school weren’t telling the truth, because you said they weren’t by pleading not guilty.

“This was a blatant act of dishonesty over a significant period of time.”