A care home manager stole more than £20,000 from vulnerable care home residents after she lost all her money in a dating website con.
Helen Hughes, 56, was the manager of Ashton Park Residential Home, in Newport, when she carried out fraud and theft offences which saw her steal thousands of pounds worth of personal allowances from five elderly residents. She also took credit cards out in their names.
As a result of her offending, Hughes was suspended from her position and she later resigned, but the five residents and their families were unable to get their money back.
A sentencing hearing at Cardiff Crown Court on Friday, June 5, heard that Hughes had lost her life savings after being conned on a Christian dating website by a man who claimed to be an American millionaire who had asked her for money to travel from a Naval base in Afghanistan to the USA.
Addressing Hughes, of Monnow Way, Bettws, Newport, Judge Daniel Williams said: “You met a man online through a Christian dating website and it turned out he was a conman who over time you fell in love with.
“He promised you the world and you were taken in by him. Over time he demanded money from you to enable him, you thought, to leave a Naval base to return to the USA where he would be able to retrieve millions in inheritance.
“That may have seemed a transparent con but you were taken in. He promised to return the money but he never did.”
He added: “Your offending was particularly mean and involves a terrible breach of trust.”
Prosecutor Jason Howells said Hughes managed the care home from 2011 until her suspension and resignation in November 2018.
Her first victim June Moran was a woman in her eighties, whose daughter paid Hughes cash every week to go towards her mother’s care and personal allowance for expenses such as haircuts, clothes, chiropodists and podiatrists.
Hughes pocketed £5,460 in total which belonged to Mrs Moran, between June and October 2018.
The defendant also stole from Mary James, a resident in her 80s with additional learning difficulties, who was the subject of an appointeeship by Newport council, and received state benefits and allowance.
This money was to be used for personal allowances as well as her healthcare and general welfare but Hughes defrauded Ms James by forging her personal allowance expenditure records to claim money which she pocketed.
The total amount cannot be quantified, but Mr Howells said it was between £400 and £17,000.
In the case of Edward Cousins, who was in his 70s, Hughes was given thousands of pounds to store in the home’s safe as Mr Cousins’ sister was concerned he was carrying a large amount of cash.
Mr Cousins gave Hughes in the region £2,500 to store in the safe but following the defendant’s resignation, Mr Cousins’ sister made enquiries about the money stored in the safe and was told it was not there.
It was later discovered that cash withdrawals had been made from Mr Cousins’ account, with £6,000 taken in total.
In a victim personal statement read out to the court, Mr Cousins’ sister Valerie Francis said: “When it was discovered the money was not in the safe he became distressed, quiet and withdrawn.
“He often asks what has happened to his money and he no longer trusts anyone. He’s confused and unable to comprehend what has happened to his money.”
Hughes also stole from Ian Taylor, a man in his 80s, after she took out at a Sainsbury’s credit card in his name.
This offending was discovered by Mr Taylor’s son following his father’s death in April 2018 after he was told about the card which had payments totalling £3,500 made while Mr Taylor was seriously ill in hospital.
The defendant’s last victim was Mary Gupwell, a woman in her 80s, whose son and daughter-in-law were asked to take out a credit card in her name, and Hughes had access to the pin number.
It was later discovered the card had been used extensively while Mrs Gupwell had been unwell and would not have been able to use it. Following Hughes’ resignation, it was discovered she had possession of the card.
The total amount taken from Mrs Gupwell’s account by the defendant was £8,328.
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In a victim personal statement, Mrs Gupwell’s daughter-in-law Janet Gupwell said she died last year.
She added: “We trusted Helen Hughes to care for Mary and we were saddened and shocked to hear she had broken that trust.”
Despite initially denying some of the allegations against her, Hughes later pleaded guilty to false accounting, two counts of fraud by false representation and five counts of theft.
Defence barrister James Evans said his client was of previous good character and had been the victim of a “cruel scam” herself and having sent large amounts of money to the man she contacted on the dating site, she was left without any money for herself.
He added: “She’s painfully conscious of the serious aspect of this case and the breach of trust but that explains why she did what she did.”
Hughes was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment, suspended for two years, and was ordered to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.