Carer jailed for theft from elderly woman

A CARER who stole more than £19,000 from a Melbourn woman s frail and vulnerable elderly mother who she was supposed to be looking after has been jailed for 18 months. Christine Townsend, 54, was told by Judge Andrew Bright QC at Luton Crown Court: In m

A CARER who stole more than £19,000 from a Melbourn woman's frail and vulnerable elderly mother who she was supposed to be looking after has been jailed for 18 months.

Christine Townsend, 54, was told by Judge Andrew Bright QC at Luton Crown Court: "In my judgment it's about as low as it gets."

He said prison was the only option for Townsend because the message had to go out to others that if they chose to take advantage of vulnerable people, significant sentences would follow.

Townsend, of New Road, Clifton, was appearing for sentence on Friday having been found guilty of two charges of theft at the end of a trial last month.

The case concerned her role as a carer in 2004 for elderly June Marden who lived alone in a bungalow in Windsor Road, Sandy.

Mrs Marden, 77, was showing early signs of dementia. Her husband Charlie was in a local nursing home with severe dementia.

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Townsend, who at the time was living in St Francis Court, Shefford, was employed by Medico Nursing and Health Care as a carer. She regularly visited Mrs Marden, shopping for her and bathing her.

The trial jury heard that in early 2004 the defendant's name was Christine Dunville.

The old lady had two Halifax joint savings accounts with her husband, totalling £19,710.

On April 20, 2004 all but £3 was drawn out of the accounts by two bankers drafts made payable to CS Dunville, and the following day both amounts were paid into an Abbey National account held by the defendant.

The prosecution's case at the trial was that the payment of the money by Mrs Marden to the defendant could not have happened by honest means as a result of the old lady freely and willingly deciding to pay that money over to the carer.

"At that time she was not in such a state of mind that she could make such a decision of her own free will," said Andrew Evans, prosecuting.

Mrs Marden was not a wealthy lady, he added, and there was no way she would have given almost her entire life savings to the defendant who she had known for only a short time. The jury heard it was against Medico's rules for carers to accept gifts from people they were looking after.

A week after the money had been paid into the Abbey National account the defendant transferred the entire balance into another account held in the name of Christine Dunville and her then fiancee.

In July 2004, the jury were told, she changed her name by deed poll to Christine Susan Townsend and the following month she changed the name on the account from Dunville to Townsend.

Mr Evans said no one knew about the large sum of money that had been transferred into the account from Mrs Marden's two accounts with the Halifax. Medico was unaware it had happened and so too was Mrs Marden's daughter, Susan Leathers, who lived in Melbourn.

Mr Evans said the existence of the money did not come to light until Townsend petitioned for bankruptcy in January 2005. At the time she was claiming she was unable to pay debts of £37,000.

Despite the fact she was now using the name of Townsend, the defendant filed for bankruptcy under the name of Christine Dunville.

The only bank account she told the Official Receiver she had was a Nat West account which contained just a few pounds. She failed to mention the Abbey National account in the name of Townsend which then contained £29,008.

After an insolvency examiner discovered the transaction involving the £19,707, Townsend claimed the money had come from a friend called Mrs Marden and was a wedding gift, although no wedding had taken place.

The examiner contacted Mrs Leathers, who said she did not know Christine Dunville. It also emerged that Townsend had been a recent visitor to Mrs Marden's home, priming her to come up with a story by saying: "You do remember giving me the money."

The pensioner told her daughter she had been upset by the visits and did not like leaving her home because the defendant would be waiting outside.

In August 2006, Townsend was still claiming the money was a wedding gift, telling police Mrs Marden told her: "Have the wedding of your dreams."

Mrs Marden died in January this year. The money taken from her accounts by Townsend will be returned to her estate, said the judge.