Belfast Telegraph

Post Office clerk begs for mercy after judge warns she faces jail for stealing £7,000 from customer

By Chris Kilpatrick

A former Post Office employee wept in court when told she faces prison for stealing thousands of pounds from a vulnerable customer.

Police found £3,000 cash hidden inside a suitcase in Pamela Burch's attic after a nurse contacted the PSNI over concerns about transactions from a patient's account.

Burch later admitted taking around £7,500 from the account which belonged to a woman with mental health problems.

Downpatrick Crown Court was told the 42-year-old had been "living beyond her means" and at the time of the thefts had travelled on two foreign holidays and purchased a personalised registration plate for her car.

Burch, from Hawthorn Rise, Ballywalter, cried throughout yesterday's hearing and begged to be released when told by Judge Gordon Kerr QC that a prison sentence is "inevitable".

She previously pleaded guilty to 13 counts of false representation and one of possessing criminal property.

The offences took place between July and September 2012 with regular sums of £600 taken from the victim's account.

A prosecutor told the court the woman's nurse rang police when she noticed "unexplained withdrawals" from her patient's account.

The care worker went to the Post Office in Ballywalter and spoke with Burch who told her the victim had asked her to pay an electricity bill for her.

When police spoke with Burch she gave them an envelope containing £4,000. She told them the customer had asked her to keep it until it could be transferred to another bank account.

The victim denied any such agreement was ever made.

When Burch's home was later searched £3,000 was found in a suitcase and another £500 cash in her handbag.

She claimed the money was hers, telling officers she was a "good saver".

Burch cried loudly in court as the facts of the case were told to the judge, repeatedly saying, "I'm sorry".

The prosecutor said Burch's victim was "a vulnerable lady". She said Burch had breached the woman's trust as a Post Office employee.

"There is a sense of this lady endeavouring to live beyond her means."

The court was told the Post Office was in a business owned by Burch's sister and that the criminal activity had destroyed the siblings' relationship.

Burch's marriage was also said to be under strain as a result.

Her lawyer said his client was ashamed of her actions and their impact on her family.

The court was told the Post Office had been targeted in three armed robberies previously which had a deep impact on Burch.

The defence lawyer said the incident had ruined Burch's reputation in the Ballywalter area where she lives.

However, it was claimed, Burch had felt a "great release" by publicly accepting her guilt to the crimes she had concealed from her family circle.

The victim, the court was told, would receive the money taken from her account back in full.

She was remanded in custody until she is sentenced.

Judge Kerr told her: "It is likely a custodial sentence given the aggravating factors is inevitable."

Victim impact reports and character references were given to the judge ahead of sentencing.

One of them was prepared by the addiction charity with which Burch had been doing volunteer work recently.

The court was told Burch had no previous criminal record.

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