A CHARITY shop volunteer from Tunbridge Wells faked a robbery in a desperate attempt to pay off mounting household bills.
Jennifer Bishop pretended to be the victim of a snatch and grab to cover her own attempt to steal from the British Heart Foundation, a court was told this week.
The 50-year-old sparked a police investigation after she claimed an assailant had entered the Grosvenor Road charity shop while she was working there and then made off with the day's takings.
But magistrates in Sevenoaks heard the missing money was actually stashed in her underwear.
James Nichols, prosecuting, said the incident happened at 5.30pm on Saturday, January 26 while Bishop had been cashing up.
"Melanie Amor, the manager, was in the back office when she heard Miss Bishop shouting for help," he said. "She went into the shop to find Miss Bishop on the floor by the till. She said someone had come in and taken the money."
But police who responded to the charity's 999 call found Bishop's account "lacked credibility". When they studied CCTV footage, there was no sign of anyone entering or leaving the premises when the defendant said the incident happened.
A police search of staff facilities uncovered a PlayStation 2 console in Bishop's locker which, the defendant initially claimed, she was about to donate to the shop.
Mr Nichols said Bishop subsequently admitted to making a false report and stealing the money which she had hidden in her underwear. She gave the cash back to the police.
Bishop, of Camden Road, pleaded guilty to a charge of stealing the console and cash, to the value of £600.
Robin Murray, defending, said his client had worked for the charity since 2010 because "she wanted to do some good in the community".
Despite being on a low wage, she would often make donations to the British Heart Foundation, he said. But things became difficult when her partner left his job. "They were left without income with rent to pay," said Mr Murray.
The defence lawyer said the theft had not been pre-planned and that his client had suffered "intense and enormous remorse" for her actions, telling friends: "I feel so embarrassed and ashamed, I wish I could die."
Chairman of the Bench John Brewster described the case as "most unusual". He said: "It was a desperate attempt to overcome a very difficult situation at the time. You are remorseful and the court will be lenient."
Bishop was given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £85 costs and a £15 victim surcharge.