A 41-YEAR-OLD woman, referred to by her elderly neighbours as ‘a tower of strength’, stole their life savings from a suitcase kept under the bed.

A court heard the first person the couple turned to when they discovered the theft was Paula Pickup.

She was consoling Jack and Annie Holderness, who were both in their 90s, as police investigated the theft.

And the court was told that the following day she returned the £5,000 she had stolen and spent half an hour apologising to her neighbours.

Pickup, of Barn Meadow Crescent, Rishton, pleaded guilty to theft of cash belonging to Mr Holderness. She was committed to Burnley Crown Court for sentence after the magistrates said they could not ignore the massive breach of trust.

“They actually thought of you as a tower of strength and you responded by stealing from them,” said the chairman. “This offence had a big impact on them to the extent that the lady actually questioned whether it was worth her staying alive.”

Peter Wild, prosecuting, said Mr Holderness was in the habit of putting money in wallets which he then put in a locked case under the bed. He didn’t think anyone else knew where the money was until one day he noticed the locking mechanism had been damaged and the money, which represented his life savings, removed.

“The first thing he did was go to Paula Pickup to tell her what had happened,” said Mr Wild. “He said he was going to call the police and she agreed that was the right thing to do.

“Annie was totally distraught having been told the life savings had been stolen. She was being consoled by the defendant.”

Mr Wild said at 10am the following morning Pickup went round to the victims’ address and asked to speak to both of them.

“She then produced a large quantity of cash and gave it to Mr Holderness,” said Mr Wild. “She apologised and said she had made a terrible mistake. She stayed for half an hour continuing to apologise.”

Jonathan Taylor, defending, said his client, amother of two, couldn’t have done more to put things right.

“She has returned the money, apologised profusely and expressed genuine remorse to the victims,” said Mr Taylor. “She doesn’t know why she did what she did. She does know she has let down two people she was very close to. She has also let down herself and her family.”