Harrogate care worker stole over £8,000 from women who were blind, deaf and had learning disabilities

Michelle Chandler, 53, was a key worker at Foresight Residential Home in Harrogate.
Michelle Chandler, 53, was a key worker at Foresight Residential Home in Harrogate.

A care worker has been jailed for stealing over £8,000 from a deaf and blind woman and another with learning difficulties.

Michelle Chandler, 53, was a key worker at Foresight Residential Home in Harrogate where she funnelled thousands of the victims’ cash into her own account over a two-year period.

The mother-of-two was said to be struggling financially at the time but her crimes were judged to be so heinous she will now spend Christmas behind bars.

York Crown Court heard that Chandler was a trusted worker at the care home, which looks after those with dementia, learning difficulties, sensory impairment and epilepsy.

One of the named victims, 52, was deaf and had been blind since birth. The other victim was a 38-year-old woman with learning difficulties who was also registered blind and suffered from short-term memory loss and seizures.

Chandler, who had been one of their chief carers for years, got hold of their bank cards and came under suspicion after an investigation was launched by the care manager, who noticed a number of “unaccounted” transactions on the victims’ bank accounts.

The manager noticed there were no records of money being placed into the victims’ purses for everyday needs, as was the care home’s policy.

The fraudulent transactions pointed straight to Chandler, who had worked at the home for 12 years. Records showed that she had transferred or withdrawn a total of £3,681 from the 52-year-old victim’s funds into her own account between January 2016 and January 2018.

Chandler, of Fountains Avenue, Harrogate, had been taking weekly sums of about £250 from the victims’ accounts. One of the victims lost £4,870 and the other about £3,600.

“The overall figure was just short of £8,500,” said Mr Galley.

He said that despite the vast sums being withdrawn by Chandler, it was not clear what she had spent the money on.

He added, however, that she was not spending the money “on extravagance” or high living, and there was evidence that at least some of it was being used to service pay-day loans.

“The money was paid in (to Chandler’s account) to keep (her) balance relatively out of the red,” said Mr Galley.

The court heard that Chandler - whose own mother has Alzheimer’s and lives in a care home - had been to see her GP about depression and may have found herself in financial difficulty after her child-tax credits were stopped.

She initially denied the offences during police questioning but pleaded guilty to the fraud when the case reached court.

Chandler’s solicitor advocate said his client was “ashamed” of her actions, adding: “This offending was not through greed. There is no evidence of a flash lifestyle, but (of) someone who was in a desperate situation, with a lack of support and made terrible decisions.”

Chandler, who had lived a blameless life until her offending came to light, was “genuinely” remorseful.

Jailing Chandler for 20 months, judge Andrew Stubbs QC told her: “You were responsible for some of the most vulnerable people in society. Such people and their families are entitled to expect that they will be cared for… (but) you targeted the accounts of two of the residents at Foresight Residential Home who, by your own admission, would be devastated by what you did to them.

“What has happened to that money remains unknown. There is no evidence of fast living, but you were clearly living beyond your means for a long period of time.”

Mr Stubbs said although Chandler had worked hard under difficult circumstances throughout her life, her offences fell into the highest category and it would be remiss of him not to give her an immediate jail sentence because she had targeted “particularly-vulnerable victims”.

Chandler, who remained stony-faced throughout the hearing, was expressionless as the sentence was passed down. She now faces financial-confiscation proceedings which were postponed until April.