SHARON Nield was considered a model employee - but she stole more than £11,000 from her employees to pay off her debts.
Nield was jailed for 12 months after she admitted the theft, over a 15-month period, from the Dane Motor Company on Sealand Road, Chester, where she had worked for nine years and had responsibility for the receipt and recording of cash sales.
The 32-year-old would take cash from customers but record that payment was outstanding.
The offences came to light when Nield broke down and confessed during a routine audit of unpaid cash sales in August.
John Oates, prosecuting at Chester Crown Court on Monday, said she originally told manager Michael Lane she had stolen £2,000 and was suspended. Two days later, she telephoned him to admit she had actually taken £11,388.
'The thieving began in May 2003,' said Mr Oates. 'When she stole some money and subsequently received other money, she would cover it up.'
Karl Scholz, defending, called the crime 'unsophisticated'. 'It was a series of thefts waiting to be discovered,' he said.
Mr Scholz told Judge Merfyn Hughes that, since the age of 19, Nield had been in debt.
When her offences were discovered, she owed £30,000 to finance companies and had been paying off her debts at a rate of £896 a month. Her take-home pay was £950.
'She has nothing to show for it,' said Mr Scholz. 'She has no car, no flat or home.
He said she had a 'fragile and low self-esteem', adding: 'It is not often in court you are placed with testimonials from the people she has defrauded.
'She was considered a model employee, excellent at her job.'
Judge Hughes told Nield, of Hindley, Wigan, who sobbed throughout the hearing, an immediate custodial sentence was necessary.
Mr Lane said yesterday: 'Sharon started here as a teenager and we were devastated. We were really sorry to see what happened to her but the sentence was justified.'