A BUSINESS manager at a Taunton pre-school used the organisation's credit card to order goods worth between £1,000 and £2,000 for herself on Amazon, Taunton Magistrates' Court has heard.

Claire Cleverly, 40, pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position over a nine month period when she worked at Comeytrowe Under Fives Pre-School.

Single mother-of-two Cleverly, of Greenway Road, started her crime spree almost immediately after taking up her paid post on November 20, 2017 and continued until she left on September 5 the following year.

Among items she bought for herself were T-shirts, sunglasses, sleeping bags, make up products, swimming aids and hiking boots.

Cleverly, who had previously been a parent and volunteer at the establishment, was given the job of business manager on the recommendation of committee member Pamela Hudd.

Mrs Hudd, in a statement read to the court, said she had been "manipulated and conned" by Cleverly, who she defended when other committee members complained about her.

Mrs Hudd's suspicions were only raised when Cleverly handed in her notice and asked if she could be sent any outstanding bank statements, which was refused, and discovering afterwards that the accused had taken all the financial documents with her.

An investigation concluded that Cleverly defrauded an estimated £1,000 to £2,000 from Comeytrowe Under Fives Pre-School and Mrs Hudd told the court that "we're still finding more evidence of her fraud".

She added that there are real fears the crime could lead to the closure of the charity.

Mrs Hudd said: "I'm extremely hurt, sad and disappointed. I trusted her and backed her employment, providing my unwavering support. I'm angry she could do what she's done."

After she left, Cleverly allegedly sent Mrs Hudd a "gloating" e-mail that included a picture of the Wolf of Wall Street, the film in which Leonardo di Caprio plays a professional fraudster. Cleverly, who sat in the dock sobbing throughout the hearing, said she has no knowledge of the e-mail.

Joe Wright, defending, said his client made a full confession to police and admitted the offence in court, but said she claimed: "I didn't know what I was doing - I've never felt so low, I wasn't in a good place."

A probation report said Cleverly, who currently works part time for the ambulance service, is remorseful and unlikely to re-offend.

She was given a community order and told to carry out 100 hours unpaid work.

She must pay £700 compensation to the pre-school, which had withheld £300 of her wages after uncovering the fraud.

And she was also ordered to pay £300 compensation to Mrs Hudd and £100 to another manager, along with £85 court costs and £85 victim surcharge.