A lottery winner who stole more than £10,000 in an effort to buy back her popularity has been jailed for 12 months.
Ballymena Crown Court sitting in Belfast heard that 44-year-old Ruth Muriel McLaughlin, from Wheatfield Park in Ballybogey, near Ballymoney, turned to theft after frittering away her 1996 £85,000 winnings on "fair weather friends".
Prosecution lawyer Neil Connor told the court that as well as "completely clearing" the till of bank notes on at least two occasions, McLaughlin was also stealing up to two National Lottery scratchcards per week.
He said that McLaughlin had been working in Portrush Filling Station as a checkout assistant for Ms Geraldine Boreland who had been her friend for more than 30 years.
The lawyer said that over a 15-month period between November 2001 and February 2003, McLaughlin had pocketed a total of £10,878.
Mr Connor revealed that Ms Boreland had first approached the police in March last year to make allegations that McLaughlin had "been stealing various items".
He said that one method McLaughlin used was through the Pay Point system, through which customers could pay their Housing Executive Rent, their electricity bills or top up their mobile phone.
However, instead of putting the cash in the till to cover the transaction, she pocketed the money, a sum totalling just over £1,000.
Mr Connor said that McLaughlin was arrested and interviewed about the thefts in March last year but during police questioning, only made "limited admissions", adding that she has 24 previous convictions for obtaining property by deception.
McLaughlin, whose previous convictions relate to false income support benefits, pleaded guilty to 17 counts of theft.
Defence lawyer Francis Rafferty said the large Lottery windfall had brought McLaughlin "something she had lacked all her adult and indeed youthful life...she found herself to be popular", adding that the only reason for that was because "when she went out, she was the one picking up the tab".