Reduced sentence for carer who stole from dying Castledawson pensioner

Phyllis Peacock continually denied stealing up to 1,500 from a dying Castledawson pensioner
Phyllis Peacock continually denied stealing up to 1,500 from a dying Castledawson pensioner

Family members 'turned detective' by installing a secret camera to snare a care worker who callously stole money from their dying 87-year-old mother, a court has heard.

Phyllis Peacock (57), of Ballymacombs Road, Portglenone, appealed her conviction and sentence but after hearing evidence at Antrim County Court, Judge Gordon Kerr QC affirmed the guilty verdict.

However, he varied the sentence which he said had been "too harsh" and instead imposed a six months sentence, suspended for two years.

After listening to evidence from victim Josephine Lagan's family who told of the steps they took to nab pilfering Peacock, as well as the defendant's persistent denials, Judge Kerr said with "some hesitation" he decided the proof for "circumstantial evidence" had been reached beyond a reasonable doubt and he was affirming the conviction.

He told Peacock it was a "breach of trust" and a serious aggravating factor was that the offending continued over a period of time.

He said the defendant was in her 50s with no previous convictions and outside of work she was a carer in her own family.

The judge said she would lose her employment but he considered ten months in jail "too harsh" as he gave her a suspended sentence.

Peacock, who at the time of the offences was working for a Health Trust, wept in the dock as the conviction was affirmed and she did not wish to make any comment when leaving the court.

The victim was Josephine Lagan of Davison Villas in Castledawson who passed away just before Christmas in 2014.

Family members gave evidence in court and afterwards son Eugene Lagan only said: "We are happy with the guilty verdict but disappointed she didn't get a custodial sentence."

The charge Peacock was convicted of was theft of an unknown amount of cash between January 1 and December 9, 2014, however, family members, who had turned detective to gather their evidence and even installed a 'nanny cam', believed it was up to £1,500.

Mrs Lagan passed away on December 21, 2014 and in court emotional family members said they could not believe Peacock would steal from their mother in her dying days.

At the County Court, the nanny-cam footage showed Peacock lift the purse, open it and walk off with it.

Peacock agreed it was her but she said was only moving Mrs Lagan's purse and denied taking any money from it.

Mrs Lagan's daughter Barbara Milne told the court her mother was "quite alert" and liked to keep her pension money in her purse but the family noticed amounts of between £10 and £40 going missing and they began working out when it was being taken and which carers were present.

"We found out that every time Phyllis Peacock was in mummy's house money went missing and when she wasn't there, there was nothing missing," she said.

In November 2014 after a doctor confirmed their mum was dying, Mrs Milne said Peacock cried and kissed Mrs Lagan but continued to take money "again and again".

Mrs Milne said they installed the camera as they wanted evidence.

She added: "I was very surprised that any carer would go in and steal off a dying woman."

Another daughter, Ann Mulholland, told the court: "Never in my wildest dreams did I think she (Peacock) would do what she did."

She believed her mother was "scared" of Peacock.

Mrs Mulholland said Peacock "was very crafty, cunning, deceitful and over-friendly, it was all part of her plan. We caught her in the end, we caught her red-handed".

In the witness box, Peacock continually denied taking the money saying: "All I ever did for that wee lady was show her care and dignity."

She added: "I treated everybody the same way as I would want my father and mother treated."

She accepted the video footage showed her lifting the purse but she said she didn't take money.

"I knew the wee lady was not well. I kissed her and I said 'God Bless You Josie'," said Peacock.

"As God is my witness I did not take that money and I would not put my hand on the Bible and swear if I was telling lies."

A prosecutor admitted it was a "circumstantial" evidence case but said the video showed Peacock moving swiftly and acting like someone who knew what they were doing.

Defence barrister Neil Moore argued there was no direct proof that Peacock took the money, saying it was "essentially speculation" and that Peacock was always in the house as part of a team of two care workers.