A CARER who stole thousands of pounds from a disabled client who considered her to be a close friend has escaped a jail term.
Nicola Willis, 40, swiped more than £28,000 from the bank account of the vulnerable woman she was employed to look after on a daily basis by the Thistle Foundation.
Willis plundered the account of the woman, who is in her mid-40s and needs the assistance of a wheelchair, over a two-year period despite the pair becoming friends over the past decade.
Willis, from Musselburgh, hid her deception by inviting the woman to her wedding and would call in out of hours.
But despite the close relationship between the pair Willis continued to steal from the woman’s bank account.
Bosses at the Foundation have apologised to the victim and admitted the organisation had been left “shocked”.
The mother-of-three has been ordered to wear an electronic tag for the next six months and has been placed on a 12-month offenders supervision order following an appearance at Edinburgh Sheriff Court yesterday.
Fury erupted in the court’s public gallery when Sheriff Frank Crowe handed down his sentence and family and friends of the victim had to be ushered from the court by police.
The court was previously told Willis began having “financial difficulties” around 2012 after her and her husband’s pub business was having problems. Willis and her husband lost a £10,000 investment and had since split. The court was also told Willis was attempting to pay the stolen money back.
Thistle Foundation management began noticing discrepancies in the disabled woman’s accounts after they had been randomly checked in October 2014.
Clients have a log sheet where all financial transactions carried out on their behalf by employees are listed. But during the audit it became apparent money had gone missing and bank statements going back to 2010 were ordered as an investigation was started.
Willis attended an internal disciplinary meeting and told her employers she had “messed up the woman’s finances” and admitted withdrawing money.
She was suspended from her position, which she had held since 2002, and police and the Care Inspectorate were called.
Solicitor Ken Cloggie, defending, said his client was “genuinely ashamed and remorseful” over her actions and had “nothing to account” for the missing cash.
He added: “It all happened in a bit of a blur and the offending continued and escalated out of control. The social work report says she has put her head in the sand, and that is exactly what’s happened here.”
Sheriff Frank Crowe described the crime as “a serious breach of trust”.
Willis pleaded guilty to an amended charge of embezzling £28,016.43 between June 19, 2012 and October 23, 2014.
Mark Hoolahan, deputy chief executive of the Thistle Foundation, said he was “shocked” at Willis’s actions.
“The Thistle Foundation is sorry for any distress caused to the victim and her family.”