Belfast Telegraph

Carer swindled thousands from the paralysed MS sufferer he befriended


A severely disabled man has spoken of how he was betrayed by the man he regarded as family, who stole thousands of pounds from his bank account.

Neill Birnie, who is paralysed from the neck down, trusted Noel Robb to care for him since 2007.

But it emerged in December 2011 he had in fact been stealing money, using the bank card he was entrusted with.

Mr Birnie, who has secondary progressive Multiple Sclerosis and relies on specialist software to communicate, said how he felt Robb had "corrupted his life".

In a powerful letter, he expressed his anger at what Robb had done to him.

"The sense of violation is something I will take to the grave," he said.

"He has sullied and corrupted every aspect of my life."

Robb (49), from Hornbeam Road, Dunmurry, swindled around £8,000 from Mr Birnie's the bank account.

He was sentenced to a year in prison, suspended for two years.

Yesterday the 49-year-old appeared at Antrim Crown Court charged with six counts of fraud.

He pleaded guilty that between March and December 2011 he "dishonestly abused" his position by using Mr Birnie's debit card.

The court heard Robb, a former manager at a private care home, had been trusted and given access to Neill's bank account while he cared for him.

Over a period of just over a year, he transferred around £7,286 from Mr Birnie's (45) account to his own.

A number of other transactions, including paying for petrol and other items, raised the amount he stole to over £8,000.

He left his job in 2007 as manager of a private care home to work as a carer for Mr Birnie, from Templepatrick.

Mr Birnie's condition has left him paralysed from the neck down and requires 24-hour care.

Yesterday the court heard concerns were finally raised about the finances by his sister Zara in December 2011.

Since his employment began with Mr Birnie in July 2007, it had been agreed the debit card was to be used to buy groceries and petrol.

It was also agreed it would be used to pay Robb's monthly wage, with an invoice sent to Ms Birnie.

He had used the card on numerous occasions, including while on holiday with Mr Birnie in Scotland in March 2011.

The court heard how the Birnies had completely trusted Robb.

Following a banking error in December 2011, Ms Birnie examined her brother's account and noticed the irregularities. She then contacted the police.

The judge said that it could appear that the Birnie's trust was misplaced, but added: "That is what decent people do."

A defence lawyer for Robb said he was sorry and regretted what happened. He also said Robb had handed back a watch worth thousands of pounds, which had previously been owned by the Birnies' father and which had been given to him as a gift.

Robb, who will not be allowed to work in the caring profession again, had initially told police that he believed he was owed the money due to extra hours he had worked.

But on November 20, 2013, he pleaded guilty to all of the charges.

References were read out that described Robb as a man of "considerable integrity".

Judge Desmond Marrinan described his actions as "not particularly sophisticated", telling him that he had "given into temptation" and that he took the money, "because you could".

"The fact that you lost your good name is punishment alone," he said.

Judge Marrinan said behaviour such as abuse of trust usually resulted in a custodial sentence. However, he took into consideration that Robb had no previous record and for "46 years lived decently".

Robb, who now works in a T-shirt printing business, was sentenced to a year in prison, suspended for two years. He was also ordered to pay back the amount he had stolen. Speaking afterwards, Zara Birnie said they were happy with the outcome.

"All we wanted was for him not to be in the position to do that again to anybody else," she said.

"The main thing we wanted to say was to send the message out to people like Neill to be so careful.

"I don't believe him when he apologised. I think he is remorseful because he got caught."

He was like part of the family, he was a rock ...then he betrayed us

Noel Robb was regarded as family by Neill and Zara Birnie. But he betrayed them in the worst way imaginable.

The man had come into their lives and their home in Templepatrick, Co Antrim, during a tough period in 2007. Neill (45) had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at the age of 25 and their father had just suffered a second stroke.

Not only did Robb care for Neill, whose condition was deteriorating, he also befriended him.

But yesterday, communicating through a letter, Neill said that friendship was now dead.

"I particularly despise him for making me a victim; for years I said I have MS but I'm not a victim of it," he said.

Neill's sister Zara had found Noel to employ as a private carer just before their father was due to leave hospital in July 2007.

"I realised I needed help at home," she said. "A social worker basically handed me a Yellow Pages and said go and look."

Zara (right) contacted a local private Community Care home where Robb had been a manager.

"He came here one evening and it was just a very informal talk – he was very personable," she said.

"I just thought this is the kind of person we are looking for."

Zara said Robb never asked for a contract and set up an arrangement that would give him access to a debit card to pay for groceries and petrol.

He set up an online bank account for Neill.

"Unfortunately, this is where the trust factor came in," she said.

"People on the outside would probably be horrified that he was given access to the account – but he was trusted implicitly.

"I left it that Noel paid himself with the card. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it was about trust, which maybe to the outside person sounds utterly ridiculous, but you have to be immersed in the situation to really understand.

"If you met Noel Robb you would think, 'what a wonderful, amiable individual, full of fun'.

She added: "A detective told me whenever they brought him in for questioning initially they said, 'what a very personable individual'. He conned a lot of people with his personality."

References read in court heard how he was held in high esteem by friends.

For three years the arrangement continued, and the Birnies continued to hold him in high regard.

"For us, he became part of the family," Zara said. "He was my rock.

"He was such a charismatic man, somebody who we thought we could trust. Looking back, it sounds stupid that I did trust him, but we never, ever thought he would do what he did."

Robb would look after Neill when Zara was at work and built up a friendship with him.

When their father Richard died in 2010 they gave his watch to Robb. It had been a gift costing thousands of pounds.

But then in December 2011, their relationship with Robb suddenly changed.

It was a banking error that led to Zara discovering what had been happening – that Robb was dipping into the account.

"I had asked my bank to transfer money from my savings to my current account. The bank made a mistake and put it into Neill's. When we looked at his account we were just confused –then realised something was really wrong.

"I looked at his statement and what I saw horrified me.

"When I started scrolling through, there were other withdrawals that caused real concern."

For almost two years afterwards Robb insisted he was innocent. Then, on November 20, the day the trial was due to start, he finally admitted his guilt.

Zara said Neill has remained strong throughout the stressful ordeal.

"I am very, very proud of him. He has great strength of character. There is no self pity, but there is a lot of hurt there. We just want vulnerable people like Neill to be aware of what could happen.

"We have a new carer through an agency and he is fantastic. We have learnt to trust again, but we will never forgive Noel," she said.

What the victim said...

'I will take this sense of violation to the grave'

Statement by Neill Birnie

I am 45-years-old and I have secondary progressive Multiple Sclerosis which has left me paralysed from the neck down. My speech is affected and I'm reliant on software for communication.

I would be classified as a vulnerable adult which is why I am here today. Noel Robb was my private carer from July 2007 to January 2012. My father was also under Noel's care until his death in 2010.

My sister and I became increasingly reliant on Noel because he had years of experience working within the caring industry.

He had worked his way into our affections to such an extent that we regarded him as part of our family, we thought he would never do us a bad turn. How wrong we were. He has been convicted on all charges relating to thefts going back to 2011. Such premeditation shows that Noel only ever regarded us as his personal piggybank.

In my original statement to the police I said that he had treated my family with disdain and my friendship with utter contempt.

I would now say that Noel Robb is a despicable festering wretch and I now consider him to be a non-person. I have learned from this very bitter experience.

If I have empowered any vulnerable individual I will have achieved something. I have recently been asked to join a policy forum looking into the area of communication difficulties between individuals, their carers and the NHS.

I am more than happy to lend an articulate cyber voice to represent those left without a voice. I would invite any initial contact to be made through the Press.

The sense of violation is something I will take to the grave. He has sullied and corrupted every aspect of my life. I will have to develop a sense of perspective but at the moment my feelings are too raw.

I particularly despise him for making me a victim; for years I said I have MS but I'm not a victim of it. I will be in a positive state of mind once again, of that you can be certain. My final words on the matter are simply these – in his case, defrauding a vulnerable adult.

These are four words that have given him a criminal record. In mine, secondary progressive multiple sclerosis and a life sentence.

What his carer wrote...

'I miss you, I'd do anything to wind the clock back'

Letter from Robb to Neill Birnie which was sent before he pleaded guilty to the charges

Hi Neill, well some time has passed since...well, let's say our departing. I thought I would drop you a line to see how you are.

We may not have ended in the best circumstance but I have and will always care about you.

I have tried to email you before this but every time I do I end up going into a rant about how unfair and wrong Zara's opinion of me is, but I have realised that it will do no one any good and that the most important thing is your health and well being.

I have not been in contact with anyone as I figure the people I met through you are first and foremost your friends and it would be wrong of me to impose myself on their lives, especially if it would put them in a difficult position.

I wish I had kept all my paperwork up to date so that I could show you that I am not guilty of the terrible things that you may think, I can only ask that you think back over the past years and ask yourself if I would do such a thing.

I really miss you man and would do anything to wind the clock back and do things differently. I would say this, if you ever need anything, if, after a time you would see fit to see me I would love to sit down and do what we did best...laugh lots and be errevend (sic) about the things we shouldn't.

If I do not hear from you I will know that you do not wish to remain in touch and this will be my last correspondence, but please know that I loved you as a brother and friend and again I would say if you ever need me, I will be there.

Love always, Noel

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