‘Home helper’ who stole from 81-year-old wins appeal against jail term

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A home help who had been given a four months jail sentence for the “despicable” theft of £3,000 from a vulnerable woman, aged 81, has avoided prison after an appeal.

Robyn Barr (21), of Arran Avenue, Ballymena, was sacked from her job and had previously admitted a charge of fraud by false representation.

Imposing a jail term, District Judge Peter King previously told Ballymena Magistrates Court in January he wanted to send out a strong message that the courts will protect the elderly from carers who breach trust.

The charge stated that on July 8 last year Barr dishonestly made a false representation that she had permission from the woman to present a cheque withdrawing £3,000 with the intention of making a gain for herself and cause a loss to the woman.

Judge King said if Barr had not pleaded guilty or paid the money back she could have been jailed for up to eight months despite having no previous convictions.

Barr appealed the sentence and at the County Court in Coleraine on Monday, the jail term was replaced with a one year period of Probation “in the interests of securing the rehabilitation of the defendant” and she will also have to do 100 hours of Community Service.

A prosecutor told an earlier sitting of Ballymena Magistrates Court the victim lived on her own and Barr was her home help and when the theft came to light the defendant told police it wasn’t planned but was a “spur of the moment” offence.

Defence barrister Aaron Thompson told the Magistrates Court it was a breach of trust and a “guileless” but “sneaky and nasty” offence and he said “she was always going to be detected”.

He said Barr had only been a carer for two months and visited homes to help dress and bathe the elderly.

Mr Thompson said Barr had lived with her grandparents and was a carer for her granny who died and was buried on the defendant’s 20th birthday.

The barrister said that got Barr interested in caring for the elderly and she began her ‘home help’ job.

He said Barr was given her gran’s house in a will and when it was redecorated and re-furnished the defendant was left with a £20,000 debt and was in rates arrears.

He said Barr had behaved in an “abhorrent” way but had got a loan from an aunt to pay back the money she had stolen from the victim.

Judge King had said that as far as such fraud cases go it was hard to imagine a “more despicable set of facts coming before the court”.

He said Barr noticed where her victim kept her chequebook and then made a cheque out; forged the signature and removed the stub.

Judge King said he had to mark his displeasure and “send out a “clear message” that vulnerable elderly people deserve protection from the courts.

He said such fraud cases were “extremely rare” but added home helps had to resist the temptation of crime as the alternative was prison.