Carer jailed for stealing from vulnerable clients

Took more than £80,000

Zoe Coates

A Lancashire carer paid to help people with learning difficulties manage their finances stole from them instead.

Zoe Coates, 41, exploited her clients' trust, taking them to cashpoints and helping herself to £80,000 over a six-year period. But she was found out after a row with the parents of one of her victims.

"Many of the sums were taken by internet transfer, the money simply being transferred from the victims bank account into the defendants own bank account, but there was also access to a number of un-authorised cash withdrawals made by the defendant for her own purposes," said prosecutor Jeremy Grout-Smith.

"Some of these were made in the company of the victims, others were made by the defendant at cash points near to where she lived. In fact she didn't know how much money she had taken."

Her victims included a married couple, Kerry and John Lee-Woods, who lost more than £56,000 They were unable to go on a dream holiday together as a result.

Kerry and John Lee-Woods on their wedding day.

"We were puzzled when John was supposed to go with the other residents in the house on a trip to the USA, but was told he couldn't go and he would 'disrupt' things," Kerry's mother tells the Garstang Courier. "We suspect it's because there wasn't enough money in his bank account."

Kerry's mother, Maureen Lee

Coates also stole £20,000 from a young mother, Sophie Wood, soon after her newborn baby was put up for adoption. But Sophie's parents became suspicious and confronted her, after which she admitted her crimes and handed herself into the police.

Coates has now been jailed for 30 months. Her £130,000 house is now being sold, and the proceeds will be used to repay her victims.

"Each of the people you stole from were people who were being looked after and cared for by HFT, the firm that employed you. Each of those people has substantial disabilities," said Judge Simon Newell.

"They were people who required a considerable degree of support. Their finances had to be kept in order, they had to be managed by you. It is a substantial position of trust."

Sophie Wood

Depressingly, Coates is by no means the only carer to have recently exploited their position in this way. In May, Jennifer Burns, from Gauldry in Fife, stole £950 from 91-year-old Dr Alexina McWhinnie.

A month earlier, Manchester woman Rebecca Calder was found guilty of stealing £5,000 from two vulnerable clients. And soon before, Lisa Weare, from Blackpool, was jailed for stealing £6,000 from a client and spending the money on tickets to see Girls Aloud.

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