A woman who stole more than £7,000 from an 87-year-old widow she helped care for to pay off mounting debts has walked free from court.
Christine Lumber, 53, cooked, cleaned and even opened mail for Mary Slade at her home in Ashcombe Gardens, Weston-super-Mare.
But over a ten-month period Lumber, who was in significant debt, stole £7,333 by forging cheques and making payments direct from Mrs Slade’s account to debt collectors and utility companies she owed money.
Lumber, of Exford Close, Weston, continually denied the accusations but at the eleventh hour pleaded guilty to 25 counts of fraud between January 29 and October 29, 2010.
Sentencing her at Bristol Crown Court to a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years, Judge Ticehurst told Lumber: “You should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself.
“You committed a serious offence against an elderly vulnerable lady and someone who trusted you implicitly but who you then decided to take advantage of.
“Your actions had a devastating effect on Mrs Slade. You were someone she trusted and believed in but it was not until the eleventh hour that you eventually stopped persisting in your denials.
“She thought she was going to have to give evidence against someone she regarded as a friend. Anyone with a spark of conscience would realise the harm she had done to this lady.”
Judge Ticehurst told Lumber she would also have to do 240 hours unpaid work in the community and should write a letter of apology.
Giles Nelson, prosecuting, said Lumber would work for Mrs Slade, who had deteriorating eyesight, for between five and seven hours a week at a rate of £8 per hour, but said in November 2010 Mrs Slade’s daughter became concerned about the level of money in her mum’s bank account.
“She went to see the bank manager and it became apparent there had been debits to utility companies and debt collectors,” Mr Nelson said.
“It also became apparent there had been crude attempts of doctoring legitimate cheques the defendant had been paid for her work.”
Mr Nelson said there was evidence Lumber had also forged Mrs Slade’s signature and that after her deception was discovered she went to some lengths to give the perception that she had done nothing wrong.
He added that until these offences she was a woman of good character.
Oliver Wilmott, defending, said Lumber had got herself into significant financial difficulties.
“She behaved like an ostrich in respect of this mounting debt,” he said. “It reached such levels that a caring and trustworthy woman chose to steal from a woman she cared for.
“It is an enormously sad offence because it’s clear from Mrs Slade that if she had known about my client’s financial difficulties she would have considered helping her.”
Lumber must also pay back all the money to Mrs Slade in 28 days.