A disgraced nurse who admitted stealing almost £34,000 from a mental health charity has avoided jail.
Elaine Fox, who also goes by the name of Smith, narrowly avoided being sent to prison after she handed back almost half of what she took from the East Neuk Recovery Group Initiative (ENeRGI).
The remainder of the money, which the Crown estimates to be £18,236, must be repaid within a month.
Fox, 51, now faces being struck from the nursing register despite a distinguished near-30 year career, after the embezzled £34,136 from the organisation she had managed for more than 15 years.
At a sentencing hearing at Dundee Sheriff Court on Wednesday, Sheriff Alastair Carmichael said the amount she took would have merited a custodial sentence.
Fox was a cosignatory on the St Monans-based charity’s bank account and was in charge of writing cheques to cover the payroll.
The charity – funded by the Scottish Government, Fife Council and through donations – had help from Fife Voluntary Action to process its payroll.
The crime came to light when ENeRGI’s finance officer noticed money missing from the charity’s accounts.
When she was challenged, Fox claimed she was using her own money to cover the wages.
She later admitted she was “taking advances on her wages” and owed the charity £35,000.
Fox came clean to police when questioned and admitted her guilt at the earliest opportunity.
In mitigation, defence advocate Kris Gilmartin said Fox was incredibly remorseful, and explained the financial practices of the organisation were in such disarray that she often covered gaps with her own money.
He said: “It is obvious this was a very serious offence, but I would submit given the circumstances and that the money is to be repaid Ms Fox could serve a non-custodial sentence.
“She would take any opportunity to avoid a custodial sentence.”
He said Fox graduated as a nurse in 1991 and was involved in the NHS for a number of years as a mental health nurse.
It was in this capacity she was employed as the charity’s only paid employee in March 2000, which led to a management position.
The charity grew to employ 15 people. However, Mr Gilmartin said there was no structure in place for its financial arrangements and as it continued to grow problems began to emerge.
“Some of the actions of this charity, in a business sense, beggar belief,” he said.
“There was no separation between the cafe (which the group took on and ran) and the service provision and significant debt was taken on board.
“All wages were paid from one account.
“Ms Fox would present a cheque to the bank in person and thereafter pay bills, including employee wages.
“She would take the money to the banks of employees to pay their wages.”
He said at some points Fox would find herself paying wages out of her own pocket.
“Because of the financial difficulty, she would use her money to plug holes in the charity’s finances and charity finances to plug hers,” he said.
“She took advances on her wage and thought she could keep on top of it, but she could not.
“It started with no ill intent, and slid into this position.
“She will be struck off the nurses register, she is currently suspended.”
Sentencing Fox, of Beeches, Ladybank, Sheriff Carmichael said he was willing to consider a community-based sentence, given the circumstances and her willingness to reimburse the money.
Fox will be under supervision for two years and subject to a restriction of liberty order, meaning she will be unable to leave her home address between 7pm and 7am for four months.
She will also be required to carry out 160 hours of community service and repay the remaining £18,236 within one month.