A carer who abused his position to steal thousands from vulnerable people to pay for his gambling addiction has been spared jail.
Laura Hancock, 32, of Ramsgate, Kent, tricked her clients into handing over their life savings to Seeds Care and pocketed more than £17,500 by misusing a company credit card.
SEEDS Care helps adults under the age of 65 who suffer from mental health conditions and learning disabilities.
Hancock, who was the facility’s service manager, told clients they had to withdraw cash to pay their rent before taking it for themselves.
The fraud and theft took place over 18 months between March 2020 and September 2021.
Laura Hancock (pictured) tricked her clients into handing over their savings and misused a company credit card to pocket more than £17,500
She targeted six clients at the home, all of whom had learning disabilities.
Hancock takes a victim, Calum Ryder, to a cash point to withdraw money under the guise of paying his rent.
It later emerged that Mr Ryder had not been paid any rent and had been defrauded of £3,980.
Hancock also lied to clients about buying furniture, before pocketing the money sent by the family.
He took cash from the savings tin and withdrew funds using the company’s credit card.
Staff were tricked into taking residents to cashpoints and delivering cash-filled envelopes to the thief’s desk.
One of his victims, Craig Fuller, had known Hancock for five years.
He said: ‘He took a lot of cash from my savings tin. It took me a long time to save that money – a very, very long time.
‘I knew from the first that there was something fishy about him – I knew it!
‘When it all came out that he was stealing from people it made me feel angry, upset, really upset.
‘He literally betrayed me. It makes me feel like I don’t want to trust anyone anymore.
‘He should have gone straight to jail for what he did. It seems to me that he’s getting away with it and that’s not right.’
After Hancock’s crimes were uncovered, he confessed to bosses before turning himself into the police.
Angela Rankin, director of Seeds Care, said: ‘I was overcome with anger and sadness when Laura told me.
‘What he did was despicable and unimaginable – these people believed in him and their sense of trust was completely shattered, as was mine.
‘I will never forgive you Laura for what you have done.’
Zara Reyes, associate director, said there had been fear among staff for some time that the service would be closed.
He said: ‘We have had to have difficult conversations with service users and their families and we have faced the loss of our reputation, which we have worked so hard to build.
‘This caused uncertainty among the staff, as they were worried that the seeds might be stopped.
‘We have now reimbursed all service users in our business at our own expense, but Laura’s breach of trust continues to make me suspicious.’
At Canterbury Crown Court, Hancock pleaded guilty to five counts of theft by abuse of office and three counts of fraud.
Prosecutor Kiera Vinal said: ‘An employee initially raised concerns after realizing Mrs Hancock had been taking rent money.
It was also noticed that depository tins were missing from the head office premises.
‘Hancock then admitted that he was taking the money because of his gambling addiction.’
Mitigating, defense barrister Nargis Chaudhary blamed Hancock’s behavior on his struggle with addiction.
He said: ‘It all stemmed from his gambling, which started when he was 16.
‘He has engaged in various approaches to try to deal with the problem, including hypnotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.
‘He never thought he’d hit rock bottom, but now he does when he goes to do the cleaning every day.
‘The only word that comes to mind is sad.’
Judge James Taylor Casey took issue with this sympathetic portrayal of the defendant.
He said: ‘Actually, the only word that comes to mind is insulting.’
Mrs Chowdhury went on to explain that Hancock was the sole carer for her mother, who was dying of cancer.
He said: ‘He will regret it deeply if his mother dies while in prison – he will have to live with it forever.’
The barrister added that Hancock, who had kept his addiction a secret, was now receiving support from friends and family who were aware of his habit.
The court heard he had not gambled at all since the scandal.
Judge Taylor added: ‘This may be a financial crime for you, but the impact is beyond financial – victims have lost their sense of trust.
‘But beyond washing their hands of responsibility for the vulnerable adults you stole from, what this company has done is reimburse their clients.
‘In 25 years of litigating, defending and being a judge in this court, I have never heard of a company behaving so responsibly and it should be commended for that.’
Hancock began a rehab course and sought help from Gamblers Anonymous.
Hancock pleaded guilty to five counts of theft by abuse of position and three counts of fraud at Canterbury Crown Court (pictured)
He received a two-year sentence suspended for two years and must complete 250 hours of unpaid work in the community and 20 days of rehabilitation.
Ms Reiss questioned why her former employee was not sent straight to jail.
He said: ‘We are disappointed with the suspended sentence given the high vulnerability of those we support and Laura’s position of the highest trust as a registered manager.
‘We hope this result is enough of a deterrent for him not to do the same thing to others in the future, and after two years of waiting we now want to focus on moving forward to a brighter future for everyone.’
Read Full News Here