A WOMAN who stole £14,500 while volunteering for a school’s parent and teacher association has been spared jail.

Elaine Pike, 35, was a member of the PTA at Down Hall Primary School, in Brooklyn Drive, Rayleigh, where she had a part to play in looking after the books.

Southend Magistrates Court heard that for three years, between September 2012 and October 2015, Pike presented false accounts at the group’s annual general meetings - duping parents and teachers into thinking the organisation was in the black.

Meanwhile, Pike, of Rawreth Lane, Rawreth, was siphoning funds into her own pockets.

She admitted one count of theft and one count of false accounting, with intent to cause a loss to another.

Headteacher Lou Nelson said the school was “very upset” that Pike had abused the trust of staff and parents.

She said: “Elaine Pike no longer has any links to the school, and the theft was picked up following the annual general meeting in October 2015 when irregularities in the accounts were identified and this was immediately reported to police.

“We are very upset that the trust of pupils, parents and staff was abused in this way.

“Since suspicions were first raised in October 2015, we have worked closely with the authorities to ensure the matter is thoroughly investigated and appropriate action is taken.

“I hope we can now move on from this and would like to thank parents for their ongoing support.”

The school associations are usually made up of parents, teachers and staff. They are designed to help improve parent’s participation, as well as to raise funds to buy items such as play equipment and to pay for fetes and school discos.

Down Hall’s association has previously paid for white boards, an adventure playground, digital cameras for the classrooms, funding towards school trips and productions and football socks.

A parent of a pupil at the school, who asked not to be named, said she was “disgusted” by the way the funds were stolen.

She said: “We work so, so hard to raise money for things to improve the school which it might not otherwise be able to afford.

“There is a lot of effort that goes in to running events like the bazaar, Easter egg hunts and quizzes. People give up a lot of their own time.

“To do what she’s done is just disgusting really. It’s practically like stealing from the children in effect.”

Pike was handed an eight month prison sentence, suspended for two years.

She must complete 150 hours of unpaid work and was ordered to pay an £80 victim surcharge, £85 costs and compensation of £7,650.

A spokesman for Essex County Council told the Echo he could not comment because parent and teacher associations are internal school organisations.