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'Despicable' Ribble Valley carer stole from two elderly victims
A ‘DESPICABLE’ carer who helped her disabled friends cope with debilitating illnesses was secretly stealing cash and plundering their bank accounts.
In total 52-year-old Susan Howard stole more than £9,000 from her two victims.
When her first victim, dementia sufferer Pauline Calvert, died, she moved on to her grieving pal Anne Atkinson, who was struggling with kidney dialysis.
Police said she took cash, withdrew money from savings accounts, stole make-up, groceries and ordered household items and clothes using store cards.
Howard, of St Mary’s Gardens, Mellor, lied to police and tried to claim a pair of size 28 pants were bought for Mrs Calvert, who officers said was a frail size six.
This week her excuses ran out and she pleaded guilty to 26 charges of fraud and theft at Preston Crown Court.
PC Michelle Boggis set up a sting operation with marked bank notes which finally caught Howard out.
She said: “She’s a very plausible lady. Her method is to befriend people, gain their trust and then take advantage of that. It’s despicable.
“She’s not a qualified carer, but knew these ladies from working with them years ago and they all lived in the same village.
"They became very dependent on her and relied on her for days out of the house and everyday errands.
“With Mrs Atkinson she knew that her dialysis caused her to go the bathroom regularly and that is when she would steal from her.
“She would often make the withdrawals from the Post Office in Brownhill, Blackburn. Her actions were shocking and devious.”
The investigation began in January last year when Anne Atkinson, now 64, contacted her bank about money going missing from her account - withdrawals of £300 each time over several weeks amounting to around £6,000 in total.
The bank confirmed that the transactions had been made using her PIN and card, meaning someone had access to both.
Mrs Atkinson, of Woodfold Close, Mellor Brook, contacted the police and they looked closely at Howard, who was regularly taking the wheelchair-bound pensioner on day trips around the county.
To catch her out police planted marked bank notes in Mrs Atkinson’s purse and in May last year Howard took the bait and was arrested on suspicion of theft.
Her case was mentioned in the Lancashire Telegraph and that prompted the family of Pauline Calvert to come forward.
Mrs Calvert had died aged 69, in April, 2009, following a period of illness and the onset of dementia. In her final year of life, she had also lost her son Craig, described as ‘her whole world’.
That was when Howard had swooped in and ‘took over every aspect of her care’.
She began secretly stealing around £3,000 in total from her Post Office and NatWest accounts and buying herself a steamer, iron and extra large clothes from Mrs Calvert’s catalogue account.
Mrs Calvert’s daughter-in-law Susan Calvert, 44, from Langho, said: “Pauline and Susan Howard knew each other through work from many years back.
“She befriended Pauline when she was at her most vulnerable. She took over her whole life. We were very, very close and she died not knowing the truth. I am disgusted and distraught at her actions.
Retired nurse Mrs Atkinson, Howard’s second victim, said: “I noticed things like coffee jars and food missing that I was certain I had bought. It made me think I was losing my memory.
“Money was going missing from my purse and I didn’t want to believe it because if I had said anything I thought I’d never get to go out again. That’s what has happened in the end.
“But eventually I just thought I’m not having someone stealing from me and contacted the bank. I just felt devastated that somebody could do that - someone I’d thought was a friend.”
Howard stole a £100 make-up bag from Mrs Atkinson’s house which was a unique item bought from TV shopping channel QVC. It was later found in her house.
Mrs Atkinson said she believes some of the money stolen by Howard went on furniture when she moved house and presents for her relatives.
Single-mother Howard has a son in his 20s and claims benefits. She walks with crutches and drives a mobility car claiming she has problems with her ankles.
Mrs Atkinson added: “I think she should go to prison for what she has done.
"She exploited our vulnerabilities and really did abuse my friend Pauline. She has died and didn’t realise what was happening.”
PC Boggis added: “We are pleased with a very thorough and successful investigation. Clearly Howard was preying on vulnerable elderly disabled victims by abusing their trust.”