A South Oxhey widow who stole £2,300 raised for the hospice that looked after her dying husband has been spared jail.

Debra Berger, of Heysham Drive, received a 44 week sentence that was suspended for two years after the court was told she was unwell and receiving mental health treatment.

The judge told her he did not feel it was "in the public interest" to send her to prison in light of her mental health issues and previous good character.

In May a jury at St Albans crown court convicted the 52-year-old of two charges of theft and two of perverting the course of justice.

Berger, who still denies her guilt, had arranged fundraising events for the Michael Sobell Hospice in pubs in the area and Northwood's Nato base.

People thought they were donating to the care of the terminally ill, but Berger, who worked as a supervisor for the Carillion cleaning company at the Nato base, did not hand over the cash to the hospice, which is in the ground of Mount Vernon hospital.

The offences took place between June 2011 and January 2012. During that time the hospice needed to raise £1.2 million to help care for its patients with life-threatening illnesses.

The trial heard Berger married her husband Dave in 1984 and had three sons, who are now in their 20s. He spent his final days at the Northwood hospice before passing away in September 2010. After his death she used to fund-raise regularly for the hospice.

In addition to two counts of theft, Berger was found guilty of doing an act intended to pervert the course of justice by writing a letter to her employers, Carillion, in which she stated co-worker Graham Hobbs was responsible for stealing the proceeds. She was also convicted of encouraging Beverley Waller, a friend and co-worker, to make a false and misleading statement to the police.

Today her barrister Miles Trigg said she had been off work with depression in March 2011, before the offences were committed. He went on: "She remains unwell and in a depressive condition, attending a clinic daily. She is one-stop away from a formal section admission."

He said she was of previous good character and said that a retired police inspector who knew her said that the offences were out of character and must have been caused by an underlying reason.

Sentencing her Judge Stephen Gullick said: "You don't accept the jury's verdict. You maintain your innocence. This was a serious breach of trust which is made worse by your actions in count three and four (doing acts tending to pervert the course of justice.)

"I have read your pre-sentence report and I am aware of your difficulties. You have been seeking mental health treatment. The length of time it has taken for the case to come to court is a sad reflection on the court system. Bearing in mind these matters and your previous good character, I do not believe it is in the public interest to send you to prison immediately".

Berger said: "Thank you" to the judge as she left the dock.

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