Older people’s charity slams ‘lenient’ sentence


A charity that works to prevent the abuse of older people has criticised the sentence handed down to a care worker from Crumlin who stole more than £1,300 from a 91-year-old client.

Fiona Elizabeth Birch (53), of Tromery Drive, pleaded guilty a charge of fraud by false representation when she appeared at Antrim Magistrates Court in January. She was given a four-month jail term for the offence.

However, she appealed and at the County Court in Antrim last Monday, the sentence was varied to become four months, suspended for two years.

A previous court heard she admitted dishonestly making false representation that she had permission to use a credit card belonging to the elderly lady on dates between the end of 2014 and September 2015.

The card was used for a number of transactions, including buying jewellery and booking a Spanish holiday.

Birch, who worked for Lisburn-based Bluebird Care, said the offence had occurred at a time when she was addicted to prescription drugs. She later repaid the money to her victim.

At the Magistrates Court hearing in January District Judge Peter King said it was hard to imagine “a more despicable” breach of trust. However, a County Court judge last week decided the jail term imposed by Judge King should be reduced to a suspended sentence.

Commenting on the outcome of the appeal, Veronica Gray, Director of Action on Elder Abuse NI, said she was “baffled yet again by the leniency being shown by the courts” towards those who commit crimes against older people.

Branding the suspended sentence “little more than a slapped wrist”, she said: “This is not a punishment and is certainly not a deterrent. When such abuse is carried out by care workers it creates fear in older people who are reliant on these services, while demeaning an essential community service. If criminals are to be deterred, punishments must start to fit the crime.”