A POST office assistant who stole thousands of pounds from elderly customers to fund his drug habit has been jailed for 20 months.

Mustanser Hussain used new "chip and pin" machines to confuse his victims, some as old as 90, when they went to withdraw money from their pension accounts at Johnson Fold Post Office in Bolton.

Hussain helped himself to a total of £5,660 from 17 customers between September, 2005, and February, 2006, Bolton Crown Court heard yesterday that Hussain aged 23, would watch the pensioners enter their cards and pin numbers before telling them that the number was incorrect or a technical fault meant they would have to carry out the transaction a second time.

He later pocketed cash to the value of one of the withdrawals.

Dorothy Trezise, aged 85, had £1,570 stolen by Hussain, but the court was told that all the victims have been reimbursed by the Post Office.

Jailing Hussain, Judge Elliott Knopf said: "You were able to confuse and bamboozle your elderly and, in many cases, vulnerable customers. You were prepared to deliberately target people who you must have assumed did not have the agility of mind to challenge you.

"Post offices are valued because of the service they provide, particularly to the elderly, who are not used to internet banking and much prefer to stand in line with their pension books and receive their money from people whom they have come to trust and rely upon. You were part of that service and committed a gross abuse of trust."

Hussain, said to be a cocaine addict, pleaded guilty to ten counts of theft and asked for a further 38 identical offences to be taken into consideration.

David Clarke, prosecuting, said Hussain, of Leverhulme Avenue, Great Lever, worked part time at the branch, which was a family business, along with the adjacent newsagents. Hussain admitted all matters in a police interview.

Mr Clarke said since Hussain's arrest in March, the post office has been run by a sub-contractor, although the family were continuing to run the shop side, which was damaged in an arson attack last month.

Defending, Andrew Costello said: "The defendant found himself under the shadow of drug addiction which he had neither the funds nor the wherewithall to deal with."