A FORMER parish council clerk abused her position by using faked invoices and altered cheques to pocket nearly £6,000 of public money.

Jane Haggar committed the fraud over a period of three years because of her own financial difficulties, filing invoices worth hundreds of pounds and channelling money intended for council employees into her own bank account.

Magistrates at Huntingdon heard on Monday (October 24) that she even changed the name on cheques intended for the village gardener employed by Upwood and the Raveleys Parish Council, so that they were made payable to her instead.

Haggar, 49, of Malthouse Lane, Ramsey, pleaded guilty to 30 charges of fraud by false representation and one charge of theft by an employee, at the hearing.

Magistrates referred the case to the Crown Court for Haggar to be sentenced by a judge, because of the seriousness of the offences.

Prosecutor Laura Mardell told the court that Haggar had taken the position of parish clerk in April 2007, but the following year began "abusing the trust that that position afforded her, and dishonestly making money from the council."

The deception continued for three years, until councillors raised concerns at the clerk's behaviour.

Miss Mardell said: "One of the councillors noticed they were having difficulty getting decisions passed and little money was being released."

The council ordered an internal audit to be carried out, at which point Haggar resigned as parish clerk.

"Her role was to run the accounts. She had responsibility as financial officer and that was a position of trust," said Miss Mardell, adding that the length of time over which the offences took place was an aggravating factor.

Cheques paid from parish council accounts had to be countersigned by the council chairman, but Haggar changed the name of the payee and cashed the money herself.

The audit revealed "wages and expenses not supported by receipt" and "cheques written to herself rather than the person contracted to do the cutting of the grass in the village", said Miss Mardell. Haggar also took a council filing cabinet valued at £50.

When interviewed by police, Haggar made full admissions, acknowledging that the money she had taken was not hers.

She said she was not aware of the total she had taken - £5,930.58 - and was described as "embarrassed and tearful" throughout the interview.

In mitigation for Haggar, Peter Vialls explained that she and her family had been struggling with financial difficulties for many years.

Before becoming parish clerk at Upwood and the Raveleys, Haggar had worked several jobs at once to make ends meet for her family.

"When she took the money she intended to do it only once to tide them over, and to repay the money, but the financial position did not improve and temptation was there."

He added that the money, which Haggar intends to repay, had not been used to fund a lavish lifestyle but was "simply to keep their heads above water."

Haggar was bailed unconditionally until Monday (October 31), when her case will be committed to Crown Court.