The suspended sentences handed down to a Warrenpoint couple who tried to steal nearly £100,000 from an 84-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s disease have been slammed as too lenient.
James and Colleen McPolin, of Dallan View in the town, were given a 12-month sentence, suspended for three years, after pleading guilty to two counts of theft against Beatrice Irvine, a former neighbour of the pair.
Ms Irvine, who is now being cared for in a nursing home, was living in Lisieux Avenue at the time, close to the couple's home.
A local MLA said that their crimes were as reprehensible as mugging an old lady clutching her pension on the way home from the post office.
On two occasions the McPolins had taken her to a building society in Newry where she had handed over cheques for £46,000 and £50,000.
On the second occasion, vigilant staff at the Nationwide branch got suspicious and called the police, preventing the couple from getting away with their crime.
The McPolins took out a mortgage on their home to pay back what they had stolen from Mrs Irvine and, during their last court appearance, they handed over a cheque to the court to cover what they had stolen.
Judge Kevin Finnegan said that the court wished to ensure that the victim recovered her money so her remaining years were completed in as much comfort as possible.
He said that he wanted to ensure that the McPolins did not benefit financially from their crimes, and added that their actions had cast a heavy shadow over their own innocent children and parents.
The judge also took time to praise the staff at the Nationwide building society in Newry, the police and the prosecution.
South Down MLA Jim Wells praised the bank staff whose vigilance, he said, had been the only reason the defendants didn’t get away with nearly £100,000 of the woman’s life savings.
“If it hadn’t been for the staff at the Nationwide they would have got away with it.”
He expressed concern over the suspended sentence, stating: “I don’t think the suspended sentence really matches the reprehensibleness of the crime.
“They didn’t own up to it, they were caught, and it appears the lady was totally oblivious as to what was going on.
“This is equally as reprehensible as mugging elderly woman walking home from the post office with her pension,” he said.
A spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Society on Monday said: “Unfortunately the financial abuse of people with dementia is far more common than we realise.
“The Alzheimer’s Society’s report ‘Short changed’ found that people with dementia were being cheated out of at least £100m, and that 112,500 (15%) had been victims of financial abuse.
“The true scale is likely to be much worse as financial abuse often goes unreported.”