A Bexhill woman has been jailed for two years for defrauding her elderly employee out of £50,000.
Elizabeth Wonnacott, 54, of Christine Close, was sentenced at Lewes Crown Court after pleading guilty to 18 counts of fraud against the 89-year-old vulnerable woman who privately employed her as a carer in her home in Bexhill.
The offences spanned five years from 2007 up until September 2011, when the fraud was eventually uncovered by family members.
Enquiries revealed that more than £50,000 had been cruelly and systematically stolen by Wonnacott over a period of years.
Of this, around £37,000 was obtained by Mrs Wonnacott by her writing out fraudulent cheques in her own name and then paying these into her own account.
Sentencing Wonnacott, Judge Barnes said that nothing could justify the systematic long term abuse of an elderly woman, highlighting that every time Wonnacott had smiled, helped and befriended her, she was systematically stealing her money.
He added: “Wonnacott was responsible for making the last months of this woman’s life “utterly desperate”.
“In fact, the victim in this case died just a few months after the shocking discovery that her life savings had been stolen by someone she trusted as her carer and considered a friend.”
He continued that there was a public duty to protect vulnerable people and that Wonnacott had been organised, cold and calculated in what she did and that this had involved a high breach of trust.
A restraining order was also issued preventing Wonnacott from entering any warden assisted accommodation, working for any person within such a complex and seeking employment with any person over the age of 65. It also prohibits Wonnacott from dealing with any financial issues on behalf of any other person other than herself or immediate family.
After the case the family of the victim said: “Nothing can reverse the utter misery suffered by our mother during the last months of her life due to this gross betrayal of trust.
“There are no excuses or mitigating circumstances to explain this cold blooded systematic grooming and abuse of a vulnerable elderly person but it is our wish and that of my late mother that raising the profile of the issue by the conviction of the perpetrator makes people question who is looking after their loved one and on a national scale leads to a system of protection for the vulnerable people in our community.”
Detective Constable Paula Melville said: “This was more than just a simple case of fraud. This involved people believing that their personal judgement and life’s experience was enough for them to feel safe and protected within their own homes. No one likes to accept that they have been made a fool of and especially not when it involves your whole life’s work being taken away from you which must have been devastating for someone in their older years.
“I would like to thank everyone who helped in this enquiry as I appreciate how difficult it can sometimes be and for the families behind those people for their continued support. I hope that this will encourage any person who is in doubt about their situation to come forward and get help.”
Detective Inspector Fran Mitchell said: “The imprisonment of Wonnacott was the result of a two-year investigation by Detective Constable Melville and involved a meticulous approach to unpick the financial records and prove the detail of all the frauds perpetrated against this elderly victim, resulting in a the conviction of her abuser.
“Any abuse of vulnerable people, financial or otherwise, will always be taken seriously by Sussex Police and partner agencies and will be dealt with according to our adult safeguarding procedures.
“Adult Protection Team investigators are very experienced and skilled in this area of work and I would encourage anyone who suspects that a friend or relative is being abused, whether financially, physically or sexually, to report their concerns to Sussex Police.
“If someone is in immediate danger call 999, otherwise call 101 to report your concerns.”