THE former Visit Isle of Wight finance officer who took almost £34,000 from the organisation has been spared prison time after repaying the amount taken.

Joanne Thornton, 56, who now lives in Sheffield, is the wife of the former Visit Isle of Wight chief executive, David Thornton.

During her time as finance officer, she took almost £34,000, which was discovered when a newly appointed managing director of the company, Will Myles, took over in March last year.

Appearing at Isle of Wight Crown Court today, she was handed a 20 month sentence suspended for two years.

Prosecutor Adam Norris told the court that the total taken came from a fraud of just short of £19,000 and a theft of almost £15,000, taken over a period of years.

Mr Norris said that considerable work had to be carried out by Visit Isle of Wight to repair the damage caused to the organisation's reputation.

For Thornton, James Horne said his client had raised the full amount taken, plus inflation, £34,979.51, and has passed it to her solicitors, who would pay it back to Visit Isle of Wight.

Mr Horne said that when the offences were discovered, Thornton was fully co-operative with the authorities and made full admissions.

"She is devastated at the harm she has caused the organisation and the upset she has caused to the Island more generally.

"It started with the intention to take a little and pay it back, but this spiralled way past that."

A letter from David Thornton, who continues to support his wife, spoke of the impact her actions had had on him and their relationship.

Sentencing Thornton, Judge David Melville said that it appeared the money was used to visit her son in Sheffield who has Aspergers and her mother who has dementia.

Judge Melville said it was a serious breach of trust and abuse of her position of power.

Judge Melville ordered that the full amount be paid back to Visit Isle of Wight within a week, otherwise she would be imprisoned for six months.

The judge also imposed a night-time curfew for three months.

Will Myles, managing director of Visit Isle of Wight said: "Visit Isle of Wight acknowledges and respects the sentence the court has handed down to Joanne Thornton today.

"The fraud and theft came to light initially following an internal audit of our finances. To trace the missing monies, a team of specialised forensic accountants were brought in, equipped to deal with the intricacies of a crime such as this.

"The findings of the report were then handed to the police, who initiated proceedings against our former employee.

"These crimes have been committed by Joanne Thornton alone, and she is responsible for this situation.

"I continue to assure our Wight BID levy payers that all monies received have been used fully and in the correct manner in line with the Wight BID structure and plans.

"I have put in place an array of people, processes and policies to ensure that this situation does not happen again.

"This day is a 'line in the sand' and we must move on and do what we are best at, namely marketing the Isle of Wight and bringing visitors to our shores, which annually accounts for £303 millions of economic impact.

"Visit Isle of Wight has dealt with this situation, but it was not of our making — it lies firmly at the door of Joanne Thornton, who we trusted, but she stole from the organisation."