A mother-of-three took £15,000 from a pre-school group to support her children after getting into debt, a court heard yesterday.

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Ann-Marie Tobias, pictured, defrauded the Spixworth pre-school, where she worked as a financial administrator.

The fraud plunged the group into financial difficulties, forcing them to lay off staff.

Other staff members went unpaid, while all were made to reapply for their posts.

The 31-year-old was yesterday sentenced at Norwich Crown Court to 12 months in prison, suspended for 18 months and was given 200 hours of unpaid work. It means she will only go to jail if she breaks the terms of her sentence in the next 18 months.

Judge Mark Lucraft said: “Parents had to step in to provide funds.

“By your actions you breached that trust.”

Sobbing in the dock in front of a packed public gallery, the mother greeted the suspended sentence with relief.

She tricked the group by overpaying her wages, failing to bank proceeds of fundraising events and transferring funds from the pre-school’s bank account to herself.

She tried to cover her tracks by telling the group the lack of money was caused by someone cashing three cheques at once.

Katharine Moore, mitigating, told the court Tobias had expressed remorse and did not take the money to live a luxury lifestyle, but to support her children.

At a hearing in October, Tobias, of Grant Road, Spixworth, admitted one count of fraud between May 2010 and November 2011, but there was a dispute over how much she took.

Ms Moore put the sum at £11,000, while the prosecution argued it was closer to £23,000.

The pre-school was based at Spixworth Infant School, in Ivy Road, and was run as a charity. It closed in July and a new pre-school has opened with no connection to the group.

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