Care worker given suspended sentence for theft from 91-year-old

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A care worker who was previously given a four-month jail term for the “despicable” theft of £1,347 from a 91-year-old female client with dementia, has avoided prison after the sentence was suspended for two years on appeal.

Fiona Elizabeth Birch (53), of Tromery Drive, Crumlin, previously pleaded guilty a charge of fraud by false representation when she appeared at Antrim Magistrates Court and was given a jail term in January.

However, she appealed and at the County Court in Antrim on Monday, May 8 the sentence was varied to become four months, suspended for two years.

A previous court heard she admitted dishonestly making a false representation that she had permission to use a credit card belonging to the elderly lady on dates between the end of 2014 and September 2015.

A prosecutor said Birch worked for Lisburn-based Bluebird Care and it was a case of theft by an employee from a client with dementia.

The woman’s family uncovered the fraud when bank statements showed transactions which should not have been there.

Birch had removed the card from the woman’s purse.

The prosecutor told the January hearing that at one stage Birch called a bank claiming to be the elderly lady wanting statements sent to an email but staff became suspicious as she did not sound like a 91-year-old and the card was cancelled.

The card had been used at a jewellery firm and to book a holiday at a Spanish hotel.

During a police interview Birch admitted making transactions but said she could not remember the hotel booking.

The prosecutor said she understood the victim had the money refunded.

Defence barrister Chris Sherrard told the court earlier this year Birch has suffered from psychiatric issues and had been in Holywell Hospital in Antrim for a week after committing the offences.

He said Birch recognised such offences are “despised” by the public.

Mr Sherrard said she had no relevant record and had made full admissions at an early opportunity.

He said part of the £1,347 included the Spanish holiday which was not for Birch’s benefit.

The barrister said his client had deceived a vulnerable old lady.

Mr Sherrard said Birch acknowledged the hurt she caused which happened when she was addicted to prescription drugs and was “self-medicating” with 80 tablets a day.

He said Birch had a significant amount of debt.

At Antrim Magistrates Court in January District Judge Peter King said it was hard to imagine a “more despicable” breach of trust.

Such cases are, thankfully, rare he said but jailing Birch for four months he said the court had to send out a message which would offer vulnerable people a degree of protection.

On that date Birch was freed on bail of £500 pending appeal.