A CARER who stole thousands of pounds from elderly pensioners to spend on debts and internet gambling has been spared jail after a judge heard how her teenage son would have to go into foster care if she was sent to prison.

“As an act of mercy I am not going to impose an immediate custodial sentence,” Recorder Kate Bex QC told 36-year-old Colleen Cosgrove.

Recorder Bex said the thefts from Bolton pensioners Joan Peters and Cyril Jackson, who have now both died, represented a “serious and persistent breach of trust”.

The court heard that one of Cosgrove’s victims, 91-year-old Mrs Peters, suffered from Alzheimers, vascular dementia and cancer and Cosgrove was one of the carers from Take a Break with Choices who visited her home four times a week.

But the court heard that, in March 2017, the pensioner's grandaugher and nephew visited Lloyds Bank in Halliwell to finalise a power of attorney for her and, reviewing her accounts, noticed unusual activity.

A check revealed 21 online transfers, totalling £6,000 from her bank to Cosgrove's account between March 8 and 30, 2017 as well as nine unauthorised withdrawals from cash machines, totalling £1,500, between March 15 and 29, 2017.

The court heard that Mrs Peters was friendly with 96-year-old Cyril Jackson, and he was also befriended and defrauded by Cosgrove, who spent time with them both "far beyond that which was required in her role as Joan's carer".

Mr Jackson also suffered from dementia and memory loss and after a spell in hospital, his son and daughter-in-law visited to help sort his finances .

But, on opening a Lloyds bank statement, they too noticed unusual transactions. There were 51 online payments to gambling companies, amounting to £2,100, a direct debit payment to Capital One for £245.13 and another, for £22.10 to Virgin Mobile. Mr Jackson had no account with Capital One and did not use a mobile phone.

Both families contacted police but, when arrested on April 7, 2017,Cosgrove denied she had a gambling problem and and made no comment when asked about debts.

She denied using Mr Jackson's account for online betting and claimed to have no involvement with him or his finances.

But in court Cosgrove, now of Ash Street, Southport, pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud, stealing a total of £9,600.

The court heard that court proceedings have had a "salutary effect" on single parent Cosgrove, who had suffered bereavement and, at the time of the offences, was self medicating with anti-depressants.

Sentencing Cosgrove to 12 months in prison suspended for two years Recorder Bex said she had taken her teenage son into consideration when deciding not to jail her immediately.

"The effect on him would be catastrophic," she said.

"Your son does not deserve to find himself in foster care in his teenage years at a time when he can be expected to need you to be a constant and reliable presence in his life."

As part of her sentence Cosgrove is subject to an 8pm to 7am curfew for nine months and must participate in 20 days of rehabilitation activities.

"Breach of trust on vulnerable victims is incredibly serious," Recorder Bex told her.

"For you to find yourself, aged 36, before a Crown Court for sentence when you have led, up until 2017, an honest and law-abiding life is a matter of real regret."