A RETIREMENT village rent collector who stole nearly £10,000 to feed a crippling cocaine habit has been spared jail.

Kellie Gower, of Beck Road, Canvey, worked for Kings Park Village, on Canvey, when she started siphoning residents’ payments into her own pocket in July 2015.

Southend Magistrates’ Court heard the 35-year-old was rumbled when bosses wrote to dozens of tenants asking for unpaid rent.

Gower had been covering missed payments with cash from other residents - in a similar manner to a Ponzi scheme - but the court heard it “got out of hand” and the scheme collapsed.

Ian Allen, prosecuting, said: “It came to the attention of the management during May last year that a number of residents were falling behind with payments.

“Accordingly, letters were issued to a number of residents raising this concern and management received a number of protests from residents that they were up-to-date with their payments.

“The defendant herself volunteered information in June that she had been taking money that she had received from residents and had been siphoning off some of that cash to fund a cocaine habit.”

Bosses checked the records and found the total amount of cash stolen was £9,400.

Gower carried out the scam by falsifying records and receipts in order to cover her tracks. She admitted a charge of theft by employee.

Mr Allen said: “She received money from one resident, some of that money she kept for herself.

“When she later received money from other persons she was putting it back on the accounts as if it had been received from the previous resident.”

She offered to pay back some of the money but the company did not accept her terms and called police.

Mr Allen said: “This is a breach of trust and there was significant planning in the sense that there was an attempt to cover her tracks.”

Magistrates handed her a six month prison sentence, suspended for 12 months.

She was ordered to complete 180 hours of unpaid work and must pay back £50 a month until she gets a job.