A FORMER care home worker who stole more than £3,000 from two men with severe learning difficulties has been given a suspended prison sentence by magistrates.

Janice Kettle was told that she had abused the “utmost trust” placed in her to care for the finances of residents at Newbus Grange, in Neasham, near Darlington, and had taken money from two vulnerable men before amending paperwork to cover her tracks.

The 52-year-old, of Grangemoor Close, Darlington, had denied two charges of theft by employee – amounting to £3,547 - but was found guilty following a trial at Newton Aycliffe Magistrates’ Court in August.

Magistrates yesterday (Tuesday, September 9) sentenced Kettle to 18 weeks imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, and ordered her to complete 200 hours of unpaid work.

The court heard that Kettle had been employed as a secretary at Newbus Grange, which cares for adults with mental health needs and learning disabilities, with responsibility for the finances of residents.

Between July and September 2012, she made arrangements on four occasions for money to be taken from the bank accounts of two residents, which never found its way to the victims.

Andrea Milsom, prosecuting, said: “Not only was the money taken but the records at the home were completed in such a way to cover her tracks.

“It was not as though the money just went missing – there were attempts to hide what she had done.”

The court was told that after discovering the thefts Castlebeck Care had reimbursed the two men.

A victim impact statement was prepared by Susan Goodbrand, from Newbus Grange, on behalf of the residents.

She wrote: “The people from whom Janice Kettle stole money would have no understanding of this. They are so vulnerable, they are entirely reliant on the people responsible for their care.

“The role of secretary is one of great trust – that person literally holds the key to their money.

“The staff are a dedicated team who support one another to do their best to support those who live there. To learn that a colleague would abuse that trust is quite a blow to the team.

“Janice Kettle was in a position of utmost trust and she abused that.”

Kettle, who was unrepresented at court, nodded her head when asked if she still denied the charges but added: “I’ve come in today to accept what punishment you want to give me.”

Chairwoman of the bench Beryl Swinbank also ordered unemployed Kettle to pay £500 compensation to Castlebeck.