A CARER led disabled people to the bank before stealing their money in a string of “monstrous” thefts.

Mencap worker Joanne Kennedy narrowly avoided jail after stealing more than £3,000 from the bank accounts of patients.

Her crimes were labelled by a judge as a “very nasty and calculated abuse of trust”.

Kennedy helped her four victims, who had “mental or physical health problems”, to withdraw money from their bank accounts but pocketed some of the cash herself.

The 42-year-old siphoned off £3,250 between April and December last year.

Kennedy was sentenced at Oxford Crown Court on Tuesday having earlier admitted four counts of theft.

Prosecutor Roger Coventry said: “It would appear the modus operandi was she would go to the bank with the victims, all of whom are elderly and have mental or physical health problems.

“Sums of money were taken out but lesser sums were entered in the accounts going back to the charity.”

None of the victims, from around South Oxfordshire, were aware of the thefts and all have been reimbursed by Mencap, the court heard.

Having been arrested, Kennedy admitted it all to the police and said she was “under a lot of pressure at work,” Mr Coventry said.

Philippa Eastwood, defending, said her client only took up the position at Mencap in 2010 having previously worked in catering.

She said Kennedy had low moods and “an extreme inability to look after her own money situation” with debts of about £1,800.

Judge Christopher Compston, who was not shown proof of the debts, told the defendant: “You cannot play the ‘I’m just an inadequate, depressive lady’ card.

“This was a very calculated and nasty abuse of trust.”

He added: “Here is a woman in a position of trust and what does she do? She steals from people who are pathetic, vulnerable and the sort of people all of us should be helping.”

Kennedy, of St George’s Road, Wallingford, was remanded in custody over a lunch break at court but was eventually given a nine-month jail term, suspended for two years.

She must do 200 hours’ unpaid work and pay back the £3,250 within two years.

Judge Compston told her: “I have no doubt whatsoever that many judges, and myself, I’m tempted, would send you immediately to prison. Because, gracious me, these people were pathetic, vulnerable, needy and it’s monstrous to steal from them.

“This was a very serious matter.

“You very nearly went to prison.”

A Mencap spokesman said: “Mencap takes this verdict very seriously. We do not tolerate any abuse of trust by staff, and the wellbeing and safety of the people we support is paramount.

“On discovery of this criminal activity, we referred the issue immediately to the safeguarding authorities and the police, and conducted our own internal investigation.

“The support worker in question is no longer employed by Mencap.”