by Joanne Rowe, Reporter, Bolton News:
A NEIGHBOUR stole £35,000 from a frail pensioner and used the cash to fund her children’s private education at Bolton School.
Over five years Jaishri Patel siphoned money from Alice Heyes’ bank and savings accounts and even forged her signature to obtain a credit card.
Bolton Crown Court heard that the crime was only uncovered in 2013 after Mrs Heyes went to live in a care home and a bank statement was opened.
It revealed her account was overdrawn by 20p and a cheque for £700 had recently been cashed by Patel.
Mrs Heyes died on January 26 this year, aged 95.
Richard Vardon, prosecuting, told how Patel, of Lever Edge Lane, Bolton, had been handed a cheque book, debit and deposit account cards by bedbound Mrs Heyes, who came to rely upon her neighbour for help around the house, cooking and shopping.
But Patel, who worked as a teaching assistant, also helped herself to Mrs Heyes’ money, using it to fund Bolton School fees for her two children.
“The dishonesty is bewildering – it’s breathtaking,” Judge Peter Davies told Patel.
“The reality of this is you knew she was a highly vulnerable woman, deserving of respect.
“You were a friend and neighbour who abused her trust disgracefully and you should be ashamed of what you did.”
Mr Vardon told the court how Patel befriended Mrs Heyes, who did not have any close family.
Then, between February 2008 and April 2013, she helped herself to £18,000 in withdrawals from her bank account, spent £12,750 using her chequebook and used her debit card to buy goods worth £2,745.
She even spent £750 on a Sainsbury’s credit card obtained by forging the pensioner’s signature.
A police search of Patel’s home found documents belonging to Mrs Heyes.
Ironically, the pensioner had regarded Mrs Patel as such a good friend that she had made a will leaving her property to her neighbour’s children.
The court heard Patel had taken much more than £35,000 from Mrs Heyes, but the additional amount has been treated as money legitimately obtained for the help she provided to the elderly woman.
Patel pleaded guilty to theft and three counts of fraud on the day her trial was due to start.
Louise Cowen, defending, said Patel had not started out intending to steal from her neighbour.
“Mrs Patel has struggled to accept fully her role in the offences,” she said.
“At the start of her involvement with Mrs Heyes she was genuinely seeking to help and provide assistance.”
She added that, as a result of her conviction, Patel has lost her job as a teaching assistant and ruined her good name.
Miss Cowen stressed that Patel is now borrowing from her family to fully pay back the money she stole.
Patel stood emotionless in the dock today as Judge Davies sentenced her to two years in prison.
He added that she had “spitefully exploited” the old woman’s friendship and, due to the high breach of trust, only a custodial sentence could be passed.