A WOMAN abused the friendship of an elderly widow by stealing her bank card to fund an addiction to online gaming and use of cocaine, a court was told.

Danielle Bower was a regular and welcome visitor to the 89-year-old woman’s home, where she cooked for her and helped with other chores.

But, Durham Crown Court heard that it gave her access to the woman’s debit card, which she used to drain the unwitting victim’s bank account in less than six weeks.

Victoria Lamballe, prosecuting, it came to light after the victim received her bank statement, in September last year, revealing she was several hundred pounds overdrawn, when she believed she should be in credit by £7,000.

She queried its validity and told family members, but when she looked in her purse she found a bank card belonging to Bower’s grandmother.

Bower was confronted and made admissions.

Inquiries revealed between June 27 and August 6, 2019, £7,642 was taken from the account, more than £4,000 on online gaming and betting, the rest in cash withdrawals and for shopping.

Miss Lamballe said the victim was shocked as she told police Bower was the last person she would have suspected of doing such a thing.

The money in the account was left to her by her husband and she wanted to leave it, “for her boys”.

When questioned Bower said she had only discovered online gaming earlier last year and, following a win, “got a buzz from it” which she wanted to repeat.

She conceded she thought use of the victim’s cash was “easy money”, which helped her pay for £200-worth of cocaine per week, while she also admitted taking £60 from the victim’s purse.

But Miss Lamballe said at the end of her police interview Bower became emotional and said she was “so sorry” for her actions.

Family members said it caused the victim “great distress” and led to a deterioration in her health and happiness in her final months, before her death in January.

Bower, 38, who has been living in supported accommodation, in High Chare, Chester-le-Street, recently, admitted fraud by false representation.

Lewis Kerr, in mitigation, said Bower was of previous good character and handed a a testimonial to the court.

“She handed herself in and made full admissions, accepting the offence, but, also, her remorse at the impact on the victim and her family.

“Gambling had not been a problem until mobile phone gaming took hold of her last year in an insidious way. She thought she could manage it, but found herself falling into cocaine addiction.”

Mr Kerr said she has since been working with a charity to address her problems.

Judge James Adkin said it was “sad” that a woman’s final months should be marred by the discovery of the deception of a person in whom she placed great trust.

He passed an 18-month immediate prison sentence