A SECRETARY who stole £22,500 from her primary school has been ordered to pay back all the money she pinched – or face 12 months in jail.

Crooked Charlotte Pearce created a false trail of invoices to cover her tracks as she plundered the cash from Ysgol Gymraeg Cwm Derwen, Oakdale, near Blackwood.

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The 45-year-old was handed a suspended prison sentence earlier this year and was back in court to face her Proceeds of Crime Act hearing.

At Cardiff Crown Court, Judge Neil Bidder QC told Pearce she will have to return the £22,511.95 she pocketed within six months.

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If she doesn’t, she could face one year in prison in default.

A compensation order was made for the money to be paid to Caerphilly council who run the Welsh-medium school.

The judge said the defendant might have to sell one of the properties she jointly owns to help her find the cash.

During Pearce’s sentencing hearing in August, Newport Crown Court heard how she had stolen some of the money from the school’s private fund.

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This was set up so children from deprived backgrounds could enjoy treats and school trips.

Pearce began her campaign of deceit in 2012 and it lasted for six years until she was caught and resigned.

Andrew Davies, prosecuting, said: “The defendant used her position of trust and responsibility as a secretary at Ysgol Gymraeg Cwm Derwen over a number of years to systematically steal money or goods from the school.”

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Mother-of-two Pearce would create bogus invoices from coach firms for non-existent school trips.

These included bogus visits to the Big Pit attraction in Blaenavon and the Urdd camp in Llangrannog.

The court heard how the defendant would also write doctored cheques to herself.

One was for more than £3,000.

She charged the school for a skip which was used in the renovation of her mother’s house.

Pearce even used its Amazon account to pay for bathroom towel rails and toilet roll holders which were delivered to her own home.

In a victim impact statement from Ysgol Gymraeg Cwm Derwen headteacher Kathryn Matthews, read by Mr Davies, she said: “The financial loss will have a long-lasting impact on the staff and the school.

“It has affected staff morale and caused tension in the school.”

Pearce, of Llwyd-y-Berth, Caerphilly, admitted fraud charges.

She was a woman of previous good character with no convictions recorded against her.

Tim Lewis, mitigating, asked for his client’s guilty pleas to be taken into account.

Her barrister said Pearce had thought of the school as “family”.

He added: “The defendant said some of the staff were friends and holiday partners which makes the betrayal much worse.

“There is considerable remorse.”

Mr Lewis said the last three years had been “a traumatic experience” for her and told how one of her children has since abandoned plans to become a barrister.

Judge Daniel Williams told Pearce she had been working and her husband had been in a well-paid job during the period of her offending.

He also said she had mortgages for three properties.

Judge Williams added: “You deprived children, some living in poverty, to much-needed resources.

“The school has been forced to make savings which has had an impact on the children.

“This went on for six years.”

She was jailed for 16 months, suspended for 18 months.

Pearce was ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.