A postmistress plundered more than £20,000 from the Post Office to prop up her struggling Westbury shop, a court heard this week.

Lesley Jordan, formerly of Paxman’s Road, Westbury, now of Ramsbury Drive, Salisbury, siphoned cash from the post office counter at the shop in The Ham in an effort to keep it afloat in the face of mounting bills.

But the 44-year-old, who was also a postmistress in Dilton Marsh at the time, was caught when a routine audit of the books showed the money was missing.

However, a judge imposed a suspended sentence after hearing how she acted to protect the jobs of 14 employees.

Andrew Banks, prosecuting, told Swindon Crown Court that the audit in October uncovered a shortfall of £21,012, which had gone missing over the previous six months.

When confronted by auditors she immediately explained she had been using the money to support the retail arm of the business.

At the end of March last year, she moved around £3,000 to ensure direct debits to Spar, which provided stock for the shop, could be met.

She then continued to take money to buy till scanners for the shop and generally keep it afloat.

Jordan, pleaded guilty to one charge of fraud.

Jason Taylor, defending, said: “A lady of this age and impeccable character, with three young children, the shame she is feeling is immense.

“I dislike using the expression robbing Peter to pay Paul, but it was the position this lady was in.”

He said that she had been driven to commit the offences after her husband suddenly abandoned her, leaving her to cope with the business and the children.

Passing sentence, Judge Euan Ambrose said: “I accept that greed was not the motivation here.

“The motivation was to keep the business going.

“It was not just your livelihood but those of 14 employees that were safeguarded.”

He imposed a six-month jail term suspended for 18 months and ordered her to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work.

The court heard that she had repaid almost £4,000 since the fraud was discovered and had sold her house, which would give her another £6,000 to hand back.