A sub-postmistress sobbed with relief as she was cleared of cooking the books by a jury.

Sue Palmer had been charged with three counts of false accounting after auditors found discrepancies totalling almost £15,000 in the records for The Grange post office, in London Road, Rayleigh.

But after a three-day trial, a jury took little over an hour to come back with a not guilty verdict.

On Friday, Mr Recorder Marrin QC told the jury they should take into account Mrs Palmer's good name when weighing up the case.

He said: "The fact she is of good character means she is less likely than may otherwise be the case to commit the crimes before you now.

"You have heard she works very long hours and is committed to her business."

During the trial, the jury had also heard from character witnesses, including customer Bill Willcocks and Douglas Atkinson, accountant at local business Swallow Aquatics.

Speaking after the result, Mr Atkinson, who has held an account with Mrs Palmer for many years, said: "I am not surprised at the verdict at all.

"Quite honestly, it was a total waste of time because from what I understand, the matter was probably something which could be dealt with within the post office routine audit and not something which needed to be taken through the courts.

"I am just pleased she has been acquitted."

Mrs Palmer, from Station Road, Rayleigh, was charged after admitting to auditors she had borrowed money to fill up the cash machine in the retail side of the post office.

She also took home thousands of pounds for safekeeping, against Post Office policy, but did later repay all the money.

Mrs Palmer declined to comment on the verdict.