A care assistant who stole money from a blind, disabled, elderly man she was caring for has avoided prison with a sentence of 120 hours of community service.
District Judge Mark Hamill told 27-year-old Cushla Byers that she "richly, richly deserved" to go to jail, but added "essentially the punishment for you is the destruction of your reputation".
He told Newtownards Magistrates Court yesterday that anyone with a clear record "destroys their reputation as a thief, so much more when someone steals from a blind, disabled, elderly and vulnerable victim when they're in a position of care".
"They put themselves, in effect, in the public dock, in the stocks and their reputation is all the more trashed," declared the judge.
The court had earlier heard that Byers' victim, who requires 24-hour care, told his family money was going missing from a drawer in his home so they installed a small CCTV camera.
A prosecution lawyer said when the footage was viewed "periodically" they spotted Byers, who was one of the elderly man's care workers and who called at his home to help him, taking money from the drawer. The money, said the lawyer, was there to be used for things like "day to day groceries" and there was a total of £40 which was "unaccounted for".
Byers, from Kearney Road in Portaferry, attended voluntarily for police interview and admitted taking the cash. She later pleaded guilty to a single count of theft on dates between March 1 and May 1 this year.
Defence barrister Connor Holmes said the money had already been paid back and that Byers, who was experiencing money problems at the time, "has made herself effectively unemployable" by committing the offence for which she is "properly ashamed of herself". Judge Hamill told Byers he was imposing the community service order "as a direct alternative" to a jail sentence.