A treasurer fleeced a pre-school charity of up to £44,000 in a long-running scam branded a ‘complete nightmare’ and a ‘terrible, damaging ordeal’, a court heard.

Gemma Waterhouse, mother-of-two, left Leven Preschool’s trustees in Beverley feeling “very angry”, betrayed, and deceived” and that the fraud had done serious damage to the school’s reputation.

Hull Crown Court heard that the woman left just 58p on a pre-school bank account, covered up losses and even signed for the manager.

Waterhouse (39), of Bewholme in Hornsea, confessed to fraud. He transferred money from a charity banking account between January 2012, and January 2019. 

Fraudulent bank statements and year-end financial reports were also admitted by her.

The case was adjourned as lawyers for Waterhouse disputed the figure of £44,000 put forward by prosecutors and said the actual figure taken from the accounts was closer to £28,000. 

Judge warned her, age 39, to be prepared for the’very real risk that could result. [she]”Might get locked up” when the case was brought back to the court for sentence.

Stephen Welch (prosecutor) stated that Waterhouse served as the volunteer treasurer and was on Leven Preschool’s committee.

Pre-school treasurer and mother-of-two Gemma Waterhouse (pictured) is facing prison time after admitting defrauding a pre-school charity of up to £44,000, Hull Crown Court was told

Pre-school treasurer and mother-of-two Gemma Waterhouse (pictured) is facing prison time after admitting defrauding a pre-school charity of up to £44,000, Hull Crown Court was told

A letter from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs was received in January 2019 showing a £16,235 debt over failure to make Pay As You Earn and staff National Insurance payments since April 2012.

Dawn Whiting, manager of the company, was surprised to see that pay slips clearly showed payments had been made and deducted.

Waterhouse was seen at a gardening centre by the treasurer, who said that it was a complete wreck.

Mrs Whiting stated that she knew it was a mess. Please let me know.

Waterhouse responded: “Everything. This. My life. Everything. Everything.’

The court heard Mr Welch tell it: “She stated that she was struggling for years. She didn’t know how she could handle the situation, that she wasn’t sure how to get help, that her life had gotten worse, worse, etc.”

Fraud had been ongoing for over five years. In September 2011, she joined the committee.

Waterhouse stated that he knew about the breach of trust and it made him feel worse. This has to be rectified. It’s not possible for me to do it, but I have time. All of it is gone. Nothing is left.

Staff at Leven Pre-school (pictured) near Hull described the fallout of Waterhouse's offending as 'a complete nightmare' and a 'terrible ordeal' as they say they struggled to stay open

Near Hull, staff at Leven Preschool (pictured below) described Waterhouse’s infraction as a “complete nightmare” and an “absolutely horrible ordeal”, as they said they had to keep their doors open.

A total of £89,743 had been paid into accounts belonging to Waterhouse or her husband’s business.

A total of £51,869 was returned. The sum of £9,808 was found to have been legitimate payments to Waterhouse’s husband for work done at the school.

The prosecution claimed that the total actual loss was £44,067.

“The defendant has made considerable efforts to conceal her wrongdoing,” stated Mr Welch.

It included the change of addresses in correspondence between the Pre-School and her home, without notifying the staff or trustees.

She changed committee meeting minutes over the pre-school’s bank account to require only one signature and also falsified Dawn Whiting’s signature.

Rachel Scott, mitigating said Waterhouse had no prior convictions.

Her children were 12 and 11. She also had two other children.

Waterhouse (pictured), who was bailed until sentencing, was warned she should prepare for 'the very real risk' she could be jailed for the offences she admitted at Hull Crown Court

Waterhouse (pictured), was held on bail until sentencing and warned that there was “a very real danger” she could end up behind bars for the offenses she admitted at Hull Crown Court.

Waterhouse was deeply sorry for her conduct, which had a negative impact on the trust of the public in charities.

“She’s very sorry for having damaged that trust,” Miss Scott said. She added that it started with some borrowing to cover her bills.

Waterhouse did not work at the time but intended to refund the money.

It was difficult for her to talk about the matter with her husband so she ‘digged herself a pit’ and took money from charity, but couldn’t return it. 

Waterhouse hid the truth. 

Waterhouse was adamant that the total loss to the pre-school was £28,139 – not the prosecution’s net figure of £44,067.

Judge David Tremberg stated that there was a disagreement over the loss.

Waterhouse’s sentence could not be given if the court did not have an accurate number. Therefore, the case was adjourned to allow for additional investigations and possibly an accountant.

The case was adjourned to January so lawyers could investigate the actual sum that was taken

So that lawyers could examine the real amount taken, the case was moved to January.

Waterhouse received a statement from Judge Tremberg saying that although it was regrettable to find themselves in this position, at the very least there is significant daylight between your statements and the truth. This daylight must be resolved before the court sentences you.

“You should be prepared for the possibility that you could end up in prison when your sentence is finally handed down.”

Waterhouse was released on bail after the case was adjourned for January.

The five pre-school people who were present at the hearing declined to speak, but they confirmed the school was still in operation.

Leven Preschool serves children age 2-5 from Leven and nearby areas. 

Dawn Whiting is the manager. She stated: “For the charity in its entirety, when this first became public, there was a real concern that the preschool might have to close.

“Although we attempted to keep the investigation internal, it was difficult in small villages.

“Some children made initial contact to Leven Pre-School and decided to leave. This was a concern because it could escalate. This was an extremely stressful time and it continues. 

“When the theft was discovered, the committee couldn’t help but cancel our biggest annual fundraising event, which further affected our funds. 

Gemma Waterhouse’s actions have made me, and other staff members, very angry.

“She participated in many activities at the preschool and raised funds. I found her to be a confidante and friend, and she was a person that staff and I could turn to for both professional and personal guidance. 

“The only way we’ve survived this awful, destructive ordeal is through the dedication of our staff and their cooperation with the committee.

“The past 21 month has been a nightmare for me and many others involved in the preschool, who have felt very angry, betrayed, and deceived.”