A woman who was in ‘dire circumstances’ over loans she had taken out stole money from a 98-year-old Kenilworth pensioner she cared for and from the school where she worked.
But Karen Cooke, 46, of Brinklow Road, Binley, escaped being jailed when she appeared at Warwick Crown Court after pleading guilty to the thefts.
She was instead given an eight-month prison sentence suspended for 12 months and ordered to carry out 60 hours of unpaid work.
And despite having lost her job at the school as a result of her dishonesty, Recorder Michael Burrows QC ordered her to pay £190 compensation to her victim.
Prosecutor Stuart Clarkson said the old lady, who lived in Lancaster Road, Kenilworth, had mobility problems because of arthritis, limited hearing and failing eyesight.
As a result she needed daily care and Cooke, as well as working as an assistant in the finance department at Bishop Ullathorne School in Coventry, was her carer.
In late January the pensioner’s daughter was visiting, and checked her mother’s purse in which there was £60 in cash.
After Cooke had made her visit and left, the daughter checked the purse again – and found there was only £30.
She was the only person who could have taken it, so two weeks later the victim’s daughter carried out similar checks before and after a visit by Cooke.
There had been £90 in the purse before Cooke arrived – and £60 of it was missing after she left.
The police were contacted, and when Cooke was arrested she admitted taking money on both occasions and also confessed to having stolen another £100 from the old lady.
Her car was searched, and officers found envelopes from Bishop Ullathorne School which should have contained various amounts totalling £590 for ‘exam resits and the like.’
Mr Clarkson observed: “The school appeared to have been aware there was some issue with their system.”
When the police asked Cooke about the empty envelopes, she offered no explanation, but made full admissions about both thefts when she was interviewed the following month.
“She said she’d been forced into it by dire circumstances because she owed money, and was attempting to buy items for her sons and no-one would give her a loan.”
Mr Clarkson added that in a statement the 98-year-old said: “I can’t stop thinking about what happened. I am finding it difficult to trust people, which is especially difficult because I need assistance from carers who I have to trust.”
Paul O’Keefe, defending, said: “This is a lady without previous convictions who, for the past five years, has been relying on loans from various companies to maintain a certain standard of living, which is not a high one.
“She has grown-up children to whom she still feels an obligation. One is 26, and she’s been taking out loans to pay for a motorcycle for him.
“She has been unable to pay off one loan, so was having to take out another loan to pay that off, and so on.
“She was being chased for payments and could not find any other source of income over and above the £1100-a-month take-home at the school and about £100 a week caring for the elderly lady.”
Mr O’Keefe said Cooke and her teenage daughter live with her mother, who she was paying for their keep as well as helping her two adult sons with their rent and the like.
He added that following Cooke’s arrest the school had suspended her without pay, but because she was still officially employed there, she could not get benefit payments until she was sacked at the end of April.
Sentencing Cooke, Recorder Burrows told her: “You, while working as a care worker meant to be looking after and protecting a 98-year-old woman, instead of caring for her you stole from her. I regard that as a gross breach of trust.
“You also stole from the school where you were employed as a finance assistant. Your offences are about as base and low as they could be.
“But I take into account that you have no previous convictions, your mental condition, and that you have a 16-year-old daughter. It seems I can just suspend the sentence.”