March 9 2014 Latest news:
Thursday, January 30, 2014
A carer caught red-handed stealing £35,000 from the family she was trusted to look after will spend the next 18 months in prison.
Lisa Mitchell, 38, pleaded guilty to theft at Norwich Crown Court after a secret camera captured her pocketing wads of cash.
The court heard how the mother-of-two from Masefield Mews, Dereham, was supposed to be looking after Sheila Read, now 81, who suffers from dementia.
But instead, over three years, she helped herself to money kept in the Read family desk and filing cabinet.
Martin Ivory, prosecuting, told the court Sheila’s husband, David, now 82, would withdraw cash weekly to pay staff wages and cover diesel costs, keeping it in his home at Dumpling Green, near Dereham.
Their son, Allan, first became suspicious of Mitchell when his accountant questioned why the family nursery business was making such a large financial loss.
If Allan Read was to trap his mother’s carer in the act he had to take matters into his own hands.
Norfolk police told him fitting a camera would be too expensive, but Mr Read felt the police just did not buy his story.
So he bought a camera hidden in a pen from Maplin for £40 and set up a trap.
Cutting a small hole in a light-bulb box, Mr Read dropped the pen inside it and left the camera rolling perched on a shelf along the edge of the office.
The first unbelievable recording showed Mitchell rifling through the drawers for cash, taking the £80 the family had planted there while Sheila Read waited upstairs for her care.
But after the first film Mr Read said he knew there was more footage to be had from the carer’s time at his parents’ home.
“She was very clever. She wouldn’t clear us right out because that would be too obvious,” he said. “I showed it to the police and explained everything. But I really wanted to get her again. I felt there was a bigger picture and that she was taking every opportunity she could get. She was addicted to it.”
Two days later Mr Read moved the camera-pen to a ledge inside the desk so he could get a full-frontal view of the theft.
There he captured Mitchell brazenly going through drawers, cheque books and a carer’s allowance wallet.
Every few seconds were punctuated with glances over her shoulder to see if anyone was watching before stashing the cash into her trouser pockets.
For Mr Read, the £40 on the camera was the best money he has ever spent.
He said: “If we hadn’t put cameras in she would have got away with it – really I did the police’s job for them.”
But to get proof to confirm his fears that Mitchell was stealing the money, Allan Read bought a camera disguised in a pen and hid it in his father’s office.
He planted cash for Mitchell to steal in the desk drawers and carefully wrote down each serial number on the bank notes.
The footage showed Mitchell rummaging through the drawers looking for money whilst Sheila Read was in the next room waiting for her care.
The court heard when Mitchell was arrested for the theft she told officers she had the money with the same serial numbers as Allan Read’s because she had been given them for wages and groceries.
But Judge Peter Jacobs said Mitchell was “caught stealing red-handed on camera” and that breach of trust of the vulnerable couple was a serious offence.
After the sentencing, investigating officer Det Con Gemma Weeks, from the Adult Abuse Investigation Unit, said: “This is one of the most callous crimes I have dealt with – the theft of large amounts of money from a vulnerable couple over a long period of time. Lisa Mitchell showed complete disregard for the vulnerable people that she was supposed to be caring for and instead went on to abuse them.
“There unfortunately appears to be an increasing trend of these types of crimes against the vulnerable across the country, often with victims who may be unaware that they are the victim of such a crime and are unable to protect themselves.”
Mitchell’s family are now looking to re-mortgage their home to pay back the money, Michael Clare, mitigating, said. He added that Mitchell had shown genuine remorse for her crime and that she had good character references from people who knew the full extent of the theft.
Outside court Allan Read said justice had been done: “It’s affected my father very badly.
“His mental and physical health has really deteriorated as a result of what Lisa did.
“I don’t wish to see anyone sent to prison, but for what Lisa Mitchell did, she certainly got justice.”
A Proceeds of Crime hearing to map out how and when the money will be paid back was adjourned until next month.