A WOMAN took most of an elderly man’s life savings which she and her husband were storing on his behalf, a court was told.

Angela Jayne Appleby frequently “dipped into” the sum of more than £30,000 to repay debts and meet household bills, but in little more than a year it was all taken.

Her husband had agreed to store the money, belonging to a distant relative, in a lockable gun cabinet at their home in Carrville, Durham, in January last year.

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Durham Crown Court heard he had permission to “loan” £3,000 to buy a van for his business and arranged to repay it by instalments.

But he noticed the rest of the money was missing when he took the £3,000.

Laurie Scott, prosecuting, said the owner of the money became suspicious when he was fobbed off having asked about retrieving it, so he reported it to police in February this year.

Both Appleby and her husband were arrested and made denials, but a month later she voluntarily attended the police station asking to be re-interviewed, and confessed that she took most of the money.

Thirty-eight-year-old Appleby, of Hawthorn Road, admitted theft of £27,000 at a hearing at the court last month, when the prosecution accepted her now estranged husband, 48-year-old Peter’s ‘not guilty’ plea.

A formal ‘not guilty’ verdict was recorded in his case.

Stephen Andrews, mitigating, told yesterday's (Friday July 18) sentencing hearing that Appleby felt “physically sick” each time she dipped into the money, but not enough to prevent her taking it, and has now put the family home up for sale in the hope of repaying the victim.

Mr Andrews said: “It was clearly against her better judgement, but she is otherwise of previous good character and her employer describes her as ‘trustworthy’ and ‘reliable’.”

Judge Colin Burn said it was not clear why the man asked them to store the money in a gun cupboard, rather than bank it, but even though Appleby had misgivings at the time, it was not enough to prevent her taking it “on a drip-drip basis”.

He told Appleby: “Clearly temptation, in this case fuelled by debt, got the better of you.”

But, due to her relatively early admission, previous good character and “clear remorse”, he said he was able to suspend the sentence.

He imposed a four-month sentence, suspended for a year, during which she must perform 180-hours’ unpaid work.

She was also ordered to pay £150 costs and an £80 statutory surcharge.

A Proceeds of Crime Act confiscation hearing will take place at the court later in the year.