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COURT HALVES SENTENCE FOR PLYMOUTH OAP HOME THIEF

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A Plymouth woman who stole at least£1,700 from an 85-year-old couple in a residential home where she worked has ha...
A Plymouth woman who stole at least£1,700 from an 85-year-old couple in a residential home where she worked has had her 12-month prison sentence halved 'as a matter of mercy' by the criminal appeal court in London.

Christine Mitchell, 21, was jailed on February 14 at Plymouth crown court after admitting six thefts.

She received consecutive terms of six months for stealing a cash card and six months for five thefts from a bank by using the card.

A few hours later the assistant recorder granted her counsel's application for a certificate of fitness for appeal and bail pending appeal.

Mr Justice Stuart White, sitting with Mr Justice Astill, announced in the appeal court: 'As an matter of mercy the sentences can properly be ordered to run concurrently so the total is six months.

'This was not a case for granting of a certificate and bail.

'The unfortunate turn of events led to her having to await her fate since the day the certificate was granted and to optimism to which that event must have given rise.

'A psychiatric report before us and not before the assistant recorder indicates that on April 10 she was suffering from moderately severe clinical depression; the problem began at the end of 1996 when she was awaiting trial.

'A pre-sentence report indicated she was extremely distraught and the thought of custody filled her with dread'.

The judge said Mrs Mitchell began working in 1992 as a care assistant at a residential home for elderly couples.

One couple, both 85, were a woman suffering from Alzheimer's Disease and her husband who said his memory was not as good as it used to be.

He had a Midland Bank account and there were cash cards in his and his wife's names allowing them to draw on the account.

Those were kept in his wallet together with a document enabling the PIN number to be ascertained.

When the couple were absent from their room Mitchell took the wife's card and information about the PIN number and then made a number of withdrawals from cash machines.

She was sentenced on the basis she stole at least£1,700 which she used to settle outstanding bills.

When the withdrawals came to light all the home staff came under suspicion and were questioned, and Mitchell confessed.

The assistant recorder when sentencing said he took into account her co-operation with police, early plea of guilty, youth and previous good character but drew attention to the fact she had been in a position of trust, a substantial sum was involved and there was a need to deter others who might be similarly tempted.

Her counsel Robert Linford told the appeal court: 'She was wracked with guilt and a psychiatrist said she had learned her lesson after a few hours locked in a cell.

'Shortly before she took the money her husband lost his job, debts accrued and creditors were knocking at her door; she hoped her husband would get work and she would be able to repay the money.

'They lived in a one-bedroom council flat and she was working 40 hours a week and taking home£78.

'She found herself increasingly unable to cope at home and at the residential home where she had more and more responsibilities placed upon her which she was ill-equipped to handle and not qualified to do but she was scared of losing her job.

'The bank has repaid the couple the sum stolen'.

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