A guilty plea by a disgraced and shamed niece who fleeced the elderly aunt she was caring for has saved her from being jailed.
Instead the six-month jail term given to 58-year-old Maureen Allen, who admitted stealing up to £11,000 from her aunt, was suspended for a year.
Judge Patricia Symth told a repentant Allen from Meadow Court, Newtownards, that normally her thefts would have warranted an immediate custodial sentence.
However, the Belfast Crown Court judge also told Allen she felt “justified” in suspending her sentence given her immediate admissions even before being formally interviewed, and more importantly, her guilty plea saved her aunt “the distress of having to give evidence”.
Judge Smyth said she also recognised Allen’s was “a very sad case, a sad day for you and a sad day for your aunt”, and that she was “deeply ashamed” for what she had done, as a result of which she’d lost her “reputation within your family”.
The judge said Allen had “given in to temptation” after finding herself in financial difficulities, and it was clear her thefts went to pay for everyday items and not to fund a lavish lifestyle.
“The personal circumstances you were in, were the cause of your offending in this case,” added Judge Smyth.
Earlier prosecutor Simon Jenkins said that Allen attempted to hide her thefts by redirecting her aunt’s bank statements to her own address. However, matters came to light when her aunt visited the bank to complain about statements she thought were not being sent out.
Mr Jenkins said that the thefts began when her aunt was ill in hospital and that between August 2015 and May the following year, Allen took a substantial amount of cash in 73 separate transactions, mainly by ATM withdrawals.
Defence barrister Chris Holmes said that Allen acknowledged the harm she had done, and that her offending began when she found herself in financial difficulties following the break-up of her marriage.
“She found herself in a position where she was taking money that was not her’s ... there is no excuse for it and she is totally ashamed of herself,” said Mr Holmes, who added that since matters came to light, Allen has been “repentant throughout”.
As part of her sentence, Allen was ordered to pay £500 compensation, which she had earlier lodged in court.