A THIEVING village post office cheat who sailed the world on cruises while her best friend, the postmistress, lived in poverty has avoided jail, to the shock of her victims.
Diane Lathlean helped herself to tens of thousands of pounds of stock “with a smile on her face” after being left in charge by unsuspecting Fiona Senior.
Village postmistress Mrs Senior and her family in Ampleforth, North Yorkshire, lived off mouldy bread while she sank her post office pay into keeping the retail side of the business afloat.
Meanwhile, her assistant and best friend Lathlean, 50, was sailing around Hawaii, the Bahamas, and Mediterranean, and spending Christmas in California.
Mother-of-three Lathlean, a part-time shelf stacker and counter assistant, was employed on a 14-and-a-half hour week, earning £6.10 an hour. She also enjoyed beauty treatments and was a Tottenham Hotspur season ticket holder, travelling all over the country staying in hotels, her victims said.
Mrs Senior, 48, refused to believe her best friend was to blame. But her husband Paul, 45, became suspicious when “appalling” takings flourished after Lathlean booked herself on a voyage to Panama. Meanwhile, her bosses had collected coupons towards a cheap break at Haven’s Haggerston Castle Caravan Park in Northumberland, a court heard.
Lathlean denied the theft of £3,050 worth of stock between 2008 and 2012 but was convicted by Scarborough magistrates in December.
The court could have jailed her for six months but presiding magistrate Carl Harwood said: “The offence is so serious you need greater punishment than we can give you.”
But the couple were stunned after turning up to York Crown Court to see Lathlean walk free with a six-month jail sentence suspended for two years.
Mrs Senior told the judge: “She was systematically stealing from our business while keeping a smile on her face. I totally trusted her. I thought she was my best friend in the village. Little did I realise her hidden agenda.”
Lathlean was also ordered to do 140 hours of unpaid work, pay £300 court costs and an £80 surcharge. Lathlean, who has already repaid the Seniors £3,050 for the stock, showed no emotion when sentence was passed.
The Seniors have received a £28,000 settlement for alleged theft of money and goods by Lathlean in a previous civil case.
Lathlean also has a previous criminal record for theft from an employer in 1989, it was revealed.
After the sentence, Mrs Senior stormed that it “made a mockery” of the decision by the magistrates.
She said: “I do feel that this was an extremely light sentence bearing in mind it is not the first conviction for theft from an employer.
“However, the justice system is the law of the land and we have to abide by this.”
Julian Tanikal, mitigating for Lathlean, of Geldgate, Ampleforth, claimed the cruises were funded by her husband Simon.