A former civil servant has been jailed for 15 months after she admitted stealing £55,000 worth of benefits from three vulnerable adults who live in residential care.
Abigail McClelland (34), a mother-of-two from Ivy Mead in the Waterside area of Londonderry, audibly gasped as she was sentenced.
Her chest heaved several times as she was led away to begin her time in jail.
One woman in the public gallery ran out as the sentence was handed down, obviously upset at the jail term.
McClelland transferred the benefits payments to her own bank account while she was working at the Department of Works and Pensions office at Lisahally, on the outskirts of Derry, between September 2009 and January 2011.
All the stolen money has been repaid by her parents, who liquidated their savings to return the cash to the DWP.
Her offending was discovered following an internal audit at the Lisahally office, where she worked as an administrative assistant responsible for paying benefits to vulnerable residential care recipients in south London.
The audit was activated following her third theft of money.
She was later interviewed by police and said she took the money because of “financial difficulties”.
Jailing McClelland at the Crown Court in Derry, Judge Piers Grant said while she spent some of the money on rates and mortgage arrears, she spent the rest on luxurious items.
These included cars, white goods, decorating and general spending.
The judge said McClelland had betrayed the trust placed in her by both her employers and by her children.
He said she had “stolen money well in excess of the debts you had at the material time”.
“This is indicative of greed upon your behalf and a preparedness to take the money and fritter it away.”
Judge Grant said he acknowledged that McClelland has been interviewed by police officers as part of an investigation into her estranged husband's alleged role in her offending.
She separated from him in 2010.
The judge said he also took into consideration that her house had been repossessed.
McClelland will spend three months of the sentence in custody and the remaining 12 months on licence.