Woman who stole almost £50,000 from her retired uncle is spared jail
A niece who stole almost £50,000 from an 88-year-old uncle she was meant to be helping has walked free from court.
Lillian Handysides, who was in the widower's will, pocketed £48,904 belonging to the retired shipyard worker, to ensure there was little left for the other beneficiaries.
At the time of the offences she had been trusted with the pensioner's finances to give him assistance as he had "difficulty getting about".
But instead of paying bills and buying things he needed, Handysides "used it as her own" and led a "nice lifestyle on the proceeds of the thefts".
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The 56-year-old, formerly of Bodiam Road, Sunderland, denied four charges of theft and claimed the cash had been given to her as a "gift".
After a trial at Newcastle Crown Court last year, jurors found her guilty of three of the offences.
She was cleared of one charge in relation to a further £600.
Mr Recorder Jeremy Barnett has now sentenced Handysides to two years imprisonment, suspended for two years, with rehabilitation requirements.
The judge told her: "I don't think there is any useful purpose to be served in sending you to immediate custody."
He added: "I can only conclude you thought you were in some way entitled to steal the money but that just doesn't work.
"What you did was wrong. The jury had no doubt and no hesitation, in my view, in convicting you. They rejected everything you had to say."
The judge said the delay in the case reaching conclusion and Handysides' personal circumstances, which include caring for other family members, meant the sentence could be suspended.
He said the ability of the victim to cope with what happened was also a factor in his considerations.
The judge said: "He was a feisty individual, he was impressive as a witness, which is no doubt the reason why the jury convicted you.
"They accepted every word of what he had to say.
"I hope he is well."
Nick Lane, defending, said Handysides, who "maintains her innocence" has been in no trouble before or since the offences and is a low risk to the public.
Mr Lane said Handysides has a long history as a care worker and must have looked after "hundreds of people" without problem.
He added: "Undoubtedly, an immediate sentence of imprisonment would act as a punishment but there is an alternative to immediate custody which could, in fact, address the issues as they exist and would, in fact, by in the public interest, rather than her languishing in custody for a time."
During a trial the victim gave evidence, via television link, from his armchair at his home in South Shields.
He told jurors: "She was taking money off me, not helping me out.
"It was supposed to be saved up in the bank for such time I passed away."
The pensioner, who said Handysides had "quite a few" holidays abroad, told the court he has since changed his will and added: "I've got no trust in her now for what she's done."
Prosecutor Ian Cook told the court the victim had "slowed down physically but there was no suggestion he had slowed down mentally" and was of "sound mind".
Mr Cook said Handysides was a beneficiary in the victim's will and added: "She would receive half of his estate and the remaining half would be divided between five grandchildren.
"What I say is that Lilian Handysides saw an opportunity to make her half share as big as possible, making sure there was as little as possible left in the estate so that when he did pass there was as little as possible for her to share with the other beneficiaries."
The court heard the pensioner had over £20,000 from an inheritance in his bank and received another £20,000 from a bond, on top of his own money.
Mr Cook said the cash from the bond was transferred into Handysides account "for safe keeping".
It was after a family holiday in Scotland, where the victim took ill and was admitted to hospital, that he became "suspicious" about the intentions of his niece.
Mr Cook said: "After a couple of days, the defendant returned home. She telephoned the complainant in Scotland and asked where his bank cards were, saying she needed to get him groceries.
"I say that is nonsense, he was in hospital in Scotland, 100 miles away, there was no need for groceries.
"This was when his suspicions were aroused."
The court heard when the pensioner was released from hospital he made inquiries with his bank and found out one of his accounts had been closed and the £25,000 balance transferred to another account, under Handysides' control.
Mr Cook told jurors: "She had taken control of the money and used it as her own."