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Careworker Birch used client's credit card to book holiday in Spain

By Nevin Farrell

A careworker who booked a holiday to Spain after she had stolen more than £1,300 from a 91-year-old female client with dementia has been jailed for four months.

However, Fiona Elizabeth Birch was immediately freed on bail of £500 pending an appeal.

She had previously pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation when she appeared at Antrim Magistrates Court.

The 53-year-old, of Tromery Drive, Crumlin, admitted dishonestly claiming she had permission to use a credit card belonging to the elderly lady on dates between the end of 2014 and September 2015.

A prosecutor said Birch worked for Lisburn-based Bluebird Care and it was a case of theft by an employee from a client with dementia.

The woman's family uncovered the fraud when bank statements showed transactions which should not have been there.

Birch had removed the card from the woman's purse.

The prosecutor said that at one stage Birch called a bank claiming to be the elderly lady wanting statements sent to an email. However, staff became suspicious as she did not sound like a 91-year-old, and the card was cancelled.

The card had been used at a jewellery firm and to book a holiday at a Spanish hotel.

During a police interview Birch admitted making transactions but said she could not remember the hotel booking.

The prosecutor believed the victim had the money refunded.

Defence barrister Chris Sherrard said Birch had suffered from psychiatric issues and was in Holywell Hospital for a week after committing the offences.

He said Birch recognised such offences were "despised", adding that she had no relevant record and had made full admissions at an early opportunity.

He said part of the £1,347 included the Spanish holiday, which was not for Birch's benefit.

The barrister said his client had deceived a vulnerable old lady, adding that Birch acknowledged the hurt she caused which happened when she was addicted to prescription drugs and was "self-medicating" with around 80 tablets a day.

He also said that Birch had a significant amount of debt.

District Judge Peter King said it was hard to imagine a "more despicable" breach of trust.

Handing out the sentence, he said the court had to send out a message that such crimes were unacceptable.

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