A sub post mistress who stole more than £34,000 was told by a judge on Thursday she had come "within an ace" of going directly to jail.

But there were "particular circumstances" in the case against Margaret Davies, aged 56, which enabled Judge Huw Davies to suspend the sentence.

Davies, at the time the sub post mistress at Aberporth, was jailed for 50 weeks, suspended for two years. She was also ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work for the community.

The sentence came at Swansea crown court after Judge Davies was assured that the £34,857 stolen by Davies was being repaid in full.

Anthony Vines, prosecuting, said Davies, of Cysgod-y-Llan, Rhos, near Llandysul, had stolen the money in cash in just 11 months between October 2007 and September 2008.

Davies simply took the cash and falsified accountancy records. She admitted theft.

The offence was uncovered during a routine audit by the Post Office in September, 2008, and Davies immediately admitted what she had done.

"There was no evidence of high living," added Mr Vines.

Her barrister, Dyfed Thomas, said the money had been given to Davies' son in an attempt to save a failing business. "The defence case is that that is where the money went," he added.

Judge Davies said he could not determine, as fact, that a third party had received the money, partly because Davies' son had not been charged with any offence and neither was he in court to confirm or deny the claim. "What did you do with the money is not an issue," he said.

Mr Thomas said, despite the judge's words, that Davies herself had not benefitted from the crime.

During police interviews Davies had said that although her son had not physically taken the money she had given it to him when asked.

Mr Thomas said Davies had borrowed £34,857 from a family member "who runs an M-o-T station in Ceredigion." The money had been placed into a client account of a firm of solicitors and would be passed onto the Post Office.

The debt to the relative would be repaid, he added, when Davies raised a mortgage on her home.

"She has not enjoyed her experience in the criminal justice system and she is of low risk of re-offending. This was out of character but it is a high degree of breach of trust and I have to concede that there are aggravating features, namely the breach of trust and the amount of money.

"But there are also mitigating features which could allow ther sentence to be suspended," added Mr Thomas.

Mr Thomas said Davies had been previously of good character, but he accepted that if she had not been then she would not have been in a position to carry out the theft.

Judge Davies said it was a frequent tragedy in such cases.

Announcing sentence, Judge Davies told her, "You have come within an ace of going to jail.

"You did not steal the money for yourself. It was to try and assist a member of the family who wanted money to support a failing business venture and you expected the money to be returned, only to find yourself deeper and deeper entrenched. By degrees more and more was taken.

"It was not personal greed."

But he warned Davies that any offending such as her's had a significant impact on public confidence and a jail sentence was warranted, albeit one that was suspended.