A carer who ‘played a game’ of pretending to be an old woman’s adopted daughter cruelly fleeced the 91-year-old out of more than £80,000.
But Suzette Smith, herself a pensioner, was finally caught after building society staff became suspicious of the large sums her confused victim was withdrawing.
Smith, aged 66, of Sharpe Close, Warwick, was jailed for two years and five months after pleading guilty at Warwick Crown Court to charges of theft and fraud.
Prosecutor Rebecca Wade said that in 2011 Smith’s victim, who is now 91 and has been diagnosed as suffering from dementia, was admitted to Warwick Hospital following a fall.
She was discharged with a care package which included daily visits to her home in Warwick by carers including Smith.
But in October 2012 the old lady cancelled that and instead took on Smith as a private carer.
And from then on Smith took advantage of her position to repeatedly take the old lady to her bank and building society ATMs to withdraw large amounts of cash which she then kept.
It had been alleged that Smith stole around £103,000 in that way – but she entered her plea on the basis that she did not steal all the money that was withdraw, and that the actual figure was £80,000.
But in addition there was the fraud charge which involved a transfer of £4,000 from her victim’s account to Smith’s own account to pay for a holiday.
Matters came to light in January last year after the Coventry Building Society branch manager was alerted by a staff member who was concerned because the elderly customer, accompanied by Smith, was withdrawing a lot of money and seemed confused.
A review of her account activity showed that in a period from June 2011 to January 2013 there had been just ten cash withdrawals for a total of £500.
But that had suddenly risen in 2013 to 54 withdrawals of a total of £27,200 and in 2014 to 106 withdrawals, mostly of £500 at a time, totalling £55,000.
The police were contacted, and when Smith was arrested officers who searched her home saw evidence of a luxury lifestyle, including a new kitchen and conservatory, and found £2,000 in cash stashed in a shoe box in her bedroom.
When she was interviewed Smith denied any wrong-doing, claiming that she had been concerned about the amount of money the old lady was withdrawing and believed she was being ripped off by other people.
And she went on to deny having any money apart from the £4,000 transfer which she claimed had been a loan for her new kitchen – although there was no evidence of any repayments.
Eventually Smith, whose thefts continued after she had been given a community order for a benefit fraud in 2013, said she would ‘play a game’ on the old lady by pretending to be her adopted daughter, and agreed she had had several thousand pounds.
Judge Andrew Lockhart QC commented: “It was a breach of a high degree of trust. There must have been significant planning.”
Marcus Harry, defending, said: “It started off with this defendant wanting to care for [the victim], but at some stage the lines began to become blurred.
“Suzette Smith perhaps convinced herself there was something of a mother/daughter relationship between the two of them, and it may be that is what led to lines being broken.
“She somehow convinced herself that what she was doing was OK because she was not having to take the money forcibly.
“In interview she said: ‘I didn’t steal the money. She gave me extra money, and I was stupid enough to take it.’
“But she knows it goes way beyond stupid. Her behaviour was wholly criminal. She is still in the process of coming to terms with what she’s done.”
Jailing Smith, Judge Lockhart told her: “I have to sentence you for the theft of £80,000 in gross breach of trust and fraudulently obtaining a further £4,000.
“This was a long-running and sophisticated deception. There was a pretence that you were her adopted daughter, and I find that to be an aggravating factor.
“The public must have confidence in carers who look after the most vulnerable in society.”