Neighbour stole £25k from dementia patient

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A Harrogate woman who stole £25,000 from a neighbour suffering from dementia has escaped jail after appearing before a court last Thursday.

The 73-year-old man was regularly visited by Lisa Wood over an eight month period between March and October, 2011, on the pretext of being his friend and neighbour, but she was obtaining cheques from him which she then used to pay off a loan shark, on a holiday, clothes and shopping.

Wood, a married 34-year-old mother, was caught after attempting to cash a further cheque to a value of £8,500.

York Crown Court was told that Wood, of Regent Avenue, is on the verge of bankruptcy with £50,000 of debts. She appeared for sentencing on one charge each of theft and attempted theft, was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment, suspended for two years, and ordered to complete 200 hours of unpaid work.

Michelle Stuart-Lofthouse, prosecuting, said that Colin Newton had been diagnosed with dementia in 2009, had a care package in place and was incapable of organising his own finances. A care worker questioned Wood about what she was doing visiting the elderly man, but was assured that she was just a neighbour who had known Mr Newton for many years. The matter was dropped and Wood went on to cash 33 cheques against Mr Newton’s £38,000 nest egg.

Wood was caught after attempting to cash a last cheque, the bank becoming suspicious and starting an investigation which eventually led to the police being called in.

In interview Wood said that she was in debt to a loan shark for £13,000 and had been threatened over the debt.

Matthew Dobkin, mitigating, said his client had been hiding a mental illness from her family for some time and was now also suffering from a serious physical condition. She was “disgusted” with herself, he said, adding that Wood had expressed remorse and also relief that matters had come to light.

Describing Wood’s behaviour as “disgraceful”, The Recorder of York, Judge Stephen Ashurst, said he had thought that immediate custody was inevitable. However, after reading medical reports and hearing the mitigation, he had just been persuaded to step back from this course.

Wood was told that, if the probation service felt her medical condition would bar her from doing unpaid work, the matter could be brought back to court and another community penalty considered. A hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act was adjourned until May, the judge saying that it was his wish that Mr Newton could be recompensed for his loss.