A WOMAN who stole thousands of pounds in taxpayers' cash from a nursery in Saltcoats has been ordered to repay every penny.

But Paula McKenzie was spared a prison sentence - despite a judge saying she had given serious consideration to sending the 35-year-old to jail.

McKenzie was sentenced at Kilmarnock Sheriff Court after pleading guilty at an earlier hearing to breaching her position of trust at the Springvale Early Years Centre, which is run by North Ayrshire Council.

She admitted embezzling a total of £6,000 from the Sannox Drive facility over a period of nearly six months - starting almost exactly three years ago.

Instead of a jail term, McKenzie was ordered to carry out unpaid work in the community as a punishment for her crime, and ordered to hand back the full amount stolen.

The crime was committed between June 20 and December 7, 2020.

Prosecutors accepted McKenzie's pleas of not guilty to three further charges accusing her of accessing an online banking database, changing a password, and using an account to approve actions to help further the course of fraud.

When McKenzie returned to Kilmarnock Sheriff Court for sentencing on Monday, June 26, defence solicitor Brian Holliman said his client was aware her behaviour may attract a custodial sentence and that the social work report stated she was a 'low risk of reoffending'.

He said: "She is remorseful and embarrassed. She simply wasn't thinking straight.

"She has lost her employment, and her family circumstances have been affected by that. 

"The lady is able to offer £200 a month, and £100 today."

Sheriff Laura Mundell told McKenzie: "You pleaded guilty to the crime of embezzlement while employed at Springvale Nursery in a position of trust with access to the account and bank account card. You breached that trust.

"The crime is most serious, and consideration has been given to sending you to prison.

"I am satisfied I can deal with this in a way that avoids that.

"I have taken account of your previous good character and remorse."

McKenzie, of St Margaret's Road in Ardrossan, was placed on a community payback order with 18 months of social work supervion and told to complete 225 hours of unpaid work in addition to repaying the full amount.

A North Ayrshire Council spokesperson said: “The person in question is no longer an employee of North Ayrshire Council and it would be inappropriate for us to comment further.”