AN OFFICE manager who siphoned off more than \u00A344,000 from her employers has been handed a 16-month jail term. Christine Short, who worked as a manager at Cromwell Care Services in Ramsey, fiddled her own wages over a three-year period to pay herself up to \u00A31,400 a month more than she was entitled. The 44-year-old mother of three was told by a judge at Peterborough Crown Court last Thursday that a custodial term was inevitable for her crimes against "a useful social service in the community which cares for people living their lives at a disadvantage". Short, of Tunkers Lane, Bury, had previously admitted 12 counts of theft and asked for 30 further offences to be taken into consideration at Huntingdon Magistrates' Court on March 6. Sentencing her, Judge Neil McKittrick said: "This is not a one-off incident where someone has momentarily been tempted to plunder money from his or her employers to meet a pressing debt. This is a systematic, long-term and highly profitable fraud on your employers. "In this case, the sheer period of time, the build-up in thieving, the nature of the victims and the position of responsibility you had, can only justify a custodial sentence." The profitable scam was only detected in January this year when Kate Arthur, who owns the care agency along with her mother Christine Morris, came across Short's personal bank statements in their office. They revealed sums paid in from the company's account far exceeded Short's wages, although other company paperwork appeared correct. Accountants were called in to investigate and Short's actions of photocopying and forging wage sheets, faxing them to the company bank and destroying them, were eventually uncovered. Prosecutor George Speed told the court Short had been friends with Mrs Morris and Mrs Arthur for 20 years, and was employed by them as a carer in 1997. Two years later when Mrs Arthur took maternity leave, Short covered her office work and in 2001 she became office manager. She became a signatory for the company in July 2002, the prosecutor said. Between October 2002 and January 2006, Short stole \u00A344,524.04 from the company, with amounts starting from \u00A330 and rising to four figure sums, on a monthly basis. When arrested, Short, of previous good character, at first only acknowledged the thefts dating from June 2004. She said her mounting debts from credit and store cards had led her to steal to get out of financial trouble. She also told police she did not consider Mrs Morris and Mrs Arthur particularly good family friends. Nadia Silver, defending, said Short was "deeply, personally ashamed" of her actions and had already repaid the full amount by remortgaging her home. She still had the full support of those who knew her best, Miss Silver added, and believed she had been suffering from emotional ill health for some time.