A CARER has been warned she faces a prison sentence for stealing money from her elderly clients.
Michelle Brandish, who worked at Towse Court, a sheltered housing complex in Icknield Place, Goring, was found guilty of three counts of fraud at Oxford Magistrates’ Court on Thursday week.
Between April and October last year, she used three vulnerable residents’ debit and credit cards to withdraw money from cash machines and buy items for herself, including hundreds of pounds’ worth of clothing. In total, she spent more than £1,700.
Her victims were Anne Stobie, who is in her sixties and is severely disabled due to multiple sclerosis, 92-year-old Joan Bosson, who has lung cancer, and 93-year-old Violet Dance, who died earlier this year.
The court heard that Brandish, 42, of Beeching Way, Wallingford, made four withdrawals of about £150 from Mrs Stobie’s bank account in September and used her debit card to buy groceries, cigarettes and dog food at the Co-op in Didcot.
Police were called after Mrs Stobie’s family reported the suspicious transactions on her bank statement. CCTV footage from the shop showed Brandish making the purchases and the till roll confirmed she had used the pensioner’s card.
When she was searched and arrested at work, officers found the card and Mrs Stobie’s Barclaycard credit card, which she had not used, inside a half-empty crisp packet in Brandish’s handbag.
They searched her house and found a statement for a Marks & Spencer credit card belonging to Mrs Dance, which showed the card had been used to order £745 worth of clothes from online retailer Pink Boutique. Several of these items were recovered at the property.
Brandish’s bedroom was piled several feet deep with new, unopened clothes, handbags and purses and there was evidence that she was about £4,000 in debt and using a pawnbroker. She had withdrawn £400 in cash from Mrs Bosson’s bank account using a cash machine in Goring high street on September 4.
This came to light when Mrs Bosson’s daughter tried to take money from the account and was declined.
Brandish told police that Mrs Bosson had asked her to withdraw the money on her behalf and she handed it over together with the card.
She said another resident had previously been suspected of stealing cash from Mrs Dance’s flat so they could have stolen Mrs Bosson’s cash too.
She took Mrs Dance’s statement home accidentally after the pensioner asked her to “sort out” the account.
Pressed by prosecutor Richard Atkins, she said she couldn’t remember what the problem was but claimed she had told Mrs Dance’s family.
She said she had purchased the Pink Boutique clothes second-hand from Paige Norris, another carer at Towse Court, for £200 in cash as a birthday present for her daughter.
But Miss Norris told the court that she had never heard of Pink Boutique or bought clothes from the business.
Brandish said she withdrew the money from Mrs Stobie’s account with her permission.
She said she handed this over the same day but Mrs Stobie wouldn’t take her cards back. She said she kept them in the crisp packet as she felt it was the safest place. Brandish said she bought the groceries at the Co-op for Mrs Stobie and accidentally paid for the cigarettes and dog food, which she admitted were for herself, with her client’s card. She said she didn’t realise at the time what she had done.
However, giving evidence from her flat by video link, Mrs Stobie said Brandish was not one of her carers and she did not recognise her.
Laura McCaffrey, defending, said Brandish wanted to help the women and didn’t realise it was unprofessional to take their cards, PINs or bank statements.
She told district judge Tim Pattinson: “Mrs Brandish is an absent-minded woman who leads a fairly chaotic life. She exercises poor judgement, struggles to understand social niceties and can be over-familiar.
“She fails to understand how those characteristics may be perceived by others but while that may make her unattractive, it doesn’t prove dishonesty. Is is not possible that, rather than being the acts of a calculated fraudster, they were merely extreme stupidity?”
However, after convicting her, Mr Pattinson said Brandish’s defence was “weak and inadequate”.
He said: “Is it credible that she stored the cards in the crisp bag for safe keeping, or is it more likely because she knew she was in unlawful possession of them? The latter is the only possible explanation I can find.
“Taking Mrs Dance’s statement home makes no sense to me. We never really heard what ‘sorting out’ the problem meant and would it not be easier to refer it to a manager or make the call from work?” Mr Pattinson said Brandish first claimed to have told Mrs Dance’s family about the “problem” under cross-examination.
He said: “This means there is no opportunity to put that to them. I believe Mrs Brandish has thought things up and, I have to say, clutched at straws in giving her evidence.
Mr Pattinson granted Brandish bail to return to Banbury Magistrates’ Court on June 27 for sentencing.
He said: “I will have to look at all sentencing options and would make clear that immediate imprisonment of more than six months may be
The Orders of St John Care Trust, which runs care services at Towse Court, said Brandish had passed all statutory checks as she had no criminal record.
She was suspended when the allegations came to light and then dismissed following an internal inquiry.
Mark Holmes, assistant director for housing and support, said: “The well-being of those we care for is our most important priority and fundamental to the values of our organisation. It is therefore extremely disappointing when the trust we put in our employees is abused.”
Housing association Soha, which owns the complex, said it had discussed the matter with the trust and was “very pleased” with the conviction.