CARE home manager Nichola Quirke took advantage of five vulnerable patients in her care by plundering their bank accounts for thousands of pounds.
The 38-year-old stole money from five care home residents over a two-year period before she was eventually rumbled by the care home owner.
The home, which is specifically for adults with learning difficulties and other disabilities, was set up by Debbie and Roger Bird in 2009, who employed Quirke as the care home manager.
They trusted Quirke, of Sandford Avenue, Gosport, to run Brooklands Care Home, in Brockhurst Road, Gosport, as when they met her in 2004 she was a manager for Hampshire Autistic Society.
When Mr Bird took semi-retirement from his job as a plumber in 2013, he took more of an interest in the care home’s books and quickly discovered that Quirke was swindling the residents, who have disabilities such as autism, cerebral palsy and Down’s syndrome.
Prosecuting Stewart Patterson told Portsmouth Crown Court that Quirke stole around £5,000 but due to a ledger not being kept properly, it would have been impossible to say for certain how much the total was.
The families of those people in the home had trust in you and they were let downRecorder Nigel Atkinson
He said: ‘It is a sad and sorry tale of a manager of a care home entrusted with the care of people who lived there who faced many disabilities.
‘In this case she was entrusted with not only their difficulties but also their finances.
‘She used that position of trust to defraud them.
‘It was not suggested that her standard of care was low but it is suggested that she used her position to defraud vulnerable residents.’
Defending Stephen Parish argued that the figure was lower than £5,000 and said that the charges had had a huge impact on Quirke’s life, leading her to lose her home which she owned with her husband, an officer in the Royal Navy.
He also said that Quirke, currently working as a cleaner, would lose her job following the court case.
Defending Stephen Parish said: ‘Nobody has suggested that Quirke was anything other than a good carer.’
Mr Parish said that Quirke suffered from bipolar disorder and depression, and that she had suffered various bereavements over recent years, affecting her mental health.
Mr Parish added: ‘What happened is very sad for everybody concerned. It is fair to say that Quirke finds it difficult to accept what is said.’
Quirke, who had originally pleaded not guilty but changed her plea to guilty on the first day of the trial yesterday, looked distraught throughout her court appearance.
She pleaded guilty to all five counts of fraud, taking place over two years up to September 1, 2013.
The court heard that Quirke had taken £1,600 from a resident with autism, £3,550 from a resident who had complex disabilities due to brain damage at birth, £450 from a resident with autism and epilepsy, £500 from a resident with Down’s Syndrome and epilepsy and £100 from a resident with autism.
She was the only person who had access to the residents’ bank accounts and she would withdraw money from cash machines so they could buy sundries and go on trips.
The residents were allowed to have £30 pocket money each and Quirke kept £200 for each resident in a locked box at the care home.
A ledger for this cash had not been properly kept, which Quirke said was down to her bad book-keeping rather than malicious theft.
She sobbed as Recorder Nigel Atkinson sentenced her.
Mr Atkinson said: ‘This case concerns an abuse by you of your position of trust which you were in at that care home.
‘And it relates to all five residents and it is over a significant period of time.
‘All five victims were vulnerable people and they were defrauded by you.
‘The families of those people in the home had trust in you and they were let down and your employers, the proprietors of the home, were equally let down by you.
‘And that is what makes this case so serious.’
He took into consideration Quirke’s previous good character and her guilty pleas, which meant that the families of the victims did not have to give evidence.
He sentenced her to 15 months in prison, suspended for two years.
He also ordered her to complete 150 hours of unpaid community work, plus directed her to pay £2,600 compensation, which will be split between the five victims, and to pay a victim surcharge.
Mr Atkinson added: ‘In your depression you have said that you think your daughter would be better off without you. Well she would not be.
‘But you should consider yourself at least fortunate that you can enjoy your daughter’s company while others, due to unfortunate circumstances, are unable to enjoy their children’s company seven days a week.’