The boss of an old people's home, who stole thousands of pounds from an 83 year-old woman suffering from dementia, was jailed for eight months.

The victim, Mrs Irene Fitchett, a resident of the Abbeyfield Home, Hayes, was unable to write cheques and was even unable to tell what a cheque looked like, prosecutor Heather Hope told Isleworth Crown Court today (Weds).

"She has progressive dementia and is somebody who needs help with every aspect of her life," she added.

But between December 2003 and June 2004 numerous cheques were drawn on her account by the home's administrator, 46 year-old mother-of-four Debra Henderson,.

A tearful Mrs Henderson, of Church Road, Hayes, admitted five "specimen" charges of theft of sums totalling nearly ?3,500. Five further charges were "left on the file".

Ms Hope said the money was used for household bills and to pay off huge debts. Some cheques were made out to herself and others to her creditors.

"These matters came to light when other workers at the care home, became very concerned," she said. Mrs Henderson went sick in August 2004 and "inquiries and concerns" were eventually reported to the police in March 2005.

Officers went to her home and "she told them she had only cashed cheques on Mrs Fitchett's behalf", said Ms Hope. "A three hour search of her home turned up numerous items of correspondence from Abbeyfield and included Mrs Fitchett's pension book and letters from Barclays Bank and her bank statements".

Questioned by detectives Mrs Henderson claimed she had done nothing without Mrs Fitchett's knowledge, denied doing anything dishonest and "stated that in order to assist the old lady with her signature, she held her hand while she wrote," said Ms Hope.

"The defendant wrote out the other details on the cheques.

"It was perfectly clear that although Mrs Fitchett believed she was able to cope with life, she was a severely impaired lady who needed assistance in every aspect of her life".

Defence counsel, Valeria Swift, said: "To say she regrets her actions is an under-statement. She is truly remorseful and finds living with the shame unbearable.

"She was in dire financial straits and kept it hidden from her entire family. They owed rent and council tax and the bailiffs attended the home on three occasions trying to get family possessions," said counsel.

But all this was kept from the rest of the family who did not find out the true situation until, at an earlier court appearance one month ago, Mrs Henderson was remanded in custody.

She and her husband had now sorted things out and made plans to repay the money and their debts, said Ms Swift.

But this was not enough to keep her out of jail and Judge Sam Katkhuda sent her down for eight months saying: "Courts take a serious view of breaches of trust of this nature especially by someone like you who held a senior position in a care home looking after elderly people.

"What you did was not an isolated incident but a course of persistent dishonest conduct over a period of six months, a prison sentence is inevitable"

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