A shamed care worker who defrauded a vulnerable elderly couple of £1,000 has walked free after her 12-month jail term was suspended for three years.
Judge Desmond Marrinan told 43-year-old Louise McAllister that while she rightly deserved to go to prison for her “mean offence”, that would be “a disproportionate evil” to inflict on her innocent family, and one which he believed her victims would also not have wished.
Admiral Care Services, the former bosses of the mother-of-three from Cedric Street, Larne, Co Antrim, immediately repaid the monies to the couple, one in his 90s, who has since died, and his 87-year-old wife who suffers from dementia.
Admiral, who had docked over £400 from McAllister’s severance pay, were awarded a further £580 by way of compensation which was paid into court.
Antrim Crown Court had heard that McAllister, who admitted fraud by abuse of her position, was on her day off when she drove the couple to their building society on August 11, 2014, to withdraw the monies.
The judge said that while taking money from elderly clients was expressly forbidden by her employers, anyone in such a position would have known it was wrong to do so.
Judge Marrinan said while he did not want the message to go out that the courts were “soft” in such cases, given McAllister’s background and the effect it would have on her family “has just persuaded me to temper justice with mercy”.
McAllister, he said, was their carer, and a close and friendly relationship had developed between them, and no doubt the elderly couple “were fond of her”.
He described it as a “rather sad and disturbing case” in which a woman of previous good character had unfortunately chosen to abuse her position of trust.
Judge Marrinan said there was some confusion as to what this transaction involved, either a gift, or a loan to be repaid.
Either way McAllister never got to spend the cash, as she was immediately sacked when Admiral found out.
While McAllister had “rather unhappily” told the couple to say nothing to neighbours and friends “in case they would talk”, they confided in another care worker who reported the matter.
Judge Marrinan said what was also “particularly unpleasant and very sad” was the effect it had on her victims, particularly the husband. A neighbour reported he “felt betrayed ... embarrassed and deeply let down”.
“The psychological damage caused to them is really at the core of this case,” he added later, and not the monies involved, because through the fraud the couple had not only “lost” someone they considered a friend, but also lost “their trust in the system”.
What also was at stake, said Judge Marrinan, was the impact it has had on the private and public confidence in the care system, particularly those in care and in need of care, and the trust they have in those caring for them.
The judge later commented that McAllister’s offending brought this issue to the fore, but that her case was “particularly sad”, as she had been “obviously a decent person”, but while he did not know “what triggered this ... she had not made a mistake, but had given in to temptation”.
Judge Marrinan also told McAllister, she had expressed “considerable remorse ... and suffered great shame ... she was also ostracised by others who have been shocked and horrified by what you did”.
Last week prosecution counsel Michael Chambers revealed that McAllister had pestered the couple for monies to help pay for a new car.
Mr Chambers added that while McAllister knew her employers forbid such financial transactions, she admitted to police she accepted the money and agreed it amounted to an abuse of her position.
Defence barrister Neil Moore claimed the cash was to repair her car, not buy a new one, said there was no evidence McAllister had “browbeaten” the couple, and claimed she had intended to repay the money.
He said a remorseful McAllister had looked after the couple for six months and had genuinely cared for them and formed a bond with them. She has not worked since being dismissed, is “almost unemployable” because of the incident and has been “ostracised” by the community.
The company directors of Admiral Care Services Ltd, Richard and Dawn Smyth Sargent, said while they did not want to comment directly on McAllister’s case, their company would also put the care of their patients first and foremost.
Admiral, they said, will always protect them and will report any instance and ensure that the letter of the law is adhered to in all issues.