A CRUEL nurse stole bank cards from an 87-year-old patient and used them on a three-month internet gambling spree after the pensioner died, a court heard.

Rubilita Coggin was today (Tuesday, January 14) jailed for 15 months for what a judge at Teesside Crown Court described as "particularly mean and despicable offences".

Shamed Coggin - who during a 20-year career nursed Iraqi prisoners or war and Saudi soldiers during the first Gulf War - wept as she was locked up.

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Judge Peter Bowers told her: "The sad thing is, it not only brings shame upon you, it also casts a shadow over the nursing profession, who do a hugely commendable job day after day.

"It undermines public confidence and their trust within the profession as a whole . . . you preyed upon an elderly lady in hospital during her final illness.

"As a nurse, you are trusted with access to the most intimate and personal aspects of a person's life, and that trust places great responsibility on you and others to act at all times in a manner which is beyond reproach and criticism, and that trust you grossly abused."

Coggin, 48, stole two credit cards from the poorly pensioner when she was admitted to the University Hospital of Hartlepool in May last year.

The woman died two weeks later, but Coggin continued to use the cards to blow almost £5,000 of the her money on an online gambling site.

The theft was only discovered when the victim’s husband noticed irregularities on the account statements, and reported it to police.

The nurse continued to use the victim’s cards for almost three months after she passed away before she was finally arrested, said prosecutor Sue Jacobs.

Investigators discovered that Coggin visited the internet site at all hours of the day - including when she was on duty - and gambled between £10 and £600 a day.

The two cards had been used 168 times before police caught up with the married mum. She was arrested at work on a ward for the elderly and stroke victims.

Her barrister, Ian Mullarkey, said: "Miss Coggin is utterly ashamed of what she has done, and wishes to express again her deep remorse for behaving this way.

"She has worked for over two decades as a nurse without any complaint whatsoever. She loved her job and it was the only thing she wanted to do. She has lost that now, if not her career for good."

Mr Mullarkey said she was "gripped" by a gambling addiction because she became "socially isolated" when her husband returned to live and work in Saudi Arabia.

The barrister told the court that he returned to the UK when he heard about his wife's thieving, evicted her from the family home and will not let her see their children.

She was living in bed and breakfast accommodation, her husband had started divorce proceedings, and she had started to suffer stress-related seizures.

"As a consequence of her own wrongdoing, her own serious wrongdoing, she has lost everything," Mr Mullarkey told Judge Bowers. "She has list her good character, her career and contact with her family.

"It has had a devastating impact on her as a result of being gripped by this addiction . . . clearly that will be of little comfort to the victim's family."

The victim's elderly husband was in court - supported by two younger relatives - to see Coggin, of Elmwood Road, Hartlepool, jailed.

In an impact statement, he said: "I cannot believe that someone would steal my wife's debit cards at a time when she was a defenceless old lady in an isolation room.

"After losing her, I received statements informing me that thousands of pounds had been taken. I simply could not cope with that."

Coggin pleaded guilty to the theft of a Lloyds TSB bank card and Laura Ashley Mastercard belonging to the 87-year-old between April 10 and 25 last year.

She also admitted two charges of fraud by false representation by using the cards between April 21 and May 30, and between June 11 and July 6 last year.