A WHEELCHAIR-BOUND thief who stole pension money from her elderly friends was spared jail yesterday because she would have been too much of a burden for prison staff.

Carol Dewar was told by a judge that she deserved to be locked up for the "mean and nasty" offence, but that her ill-health would have caused problems for the authorities.

Dewar stole £1,200 from the Post Office account of her friends Peggy and Jim Haynes, both in their 80s, during a four-day break at their County Durham home.

The 55-year-old took the account card and got access to the Pin number before she went to a Post Office and withdrew £600 on two consecutive days in January.

She was found guilty of two counts of theft at Teesside Crown Court last month, and the case was adjourned for reports.

Dewar was put on probation 13 years ago after she admitted stealing cash from an elderly professor she worked for in her native Scotland.

Yesterday, she was given a 12-month jail sentence, suspended for two years, ordered to pay the couple £1,200 compensation and put on a six-month curfew from 6pm to 6am.

Judge Peter Bowers told her: "It seems the prison authorities would struggle to cope with you for the sort of sentence you richly deserve.

"This was a mean and nasty offence against an elderly couple who thought you were their friend, but you abused that friendship in a gross and despicable way.

"But for the difficulties for the authorities to cope and the manpower needed to look after you, I would send you away."

The court heard that the thefts -carried out as the elderly couple from Ferryhill had afternoon naps - was noticed when Mr Haynes went to take out their usual monthly £400 in February.

Dewar, from East Lothian, was in the North-East at the time and was staying with the couple, but denied she was responsible for the theft.

She continued to dispute she was the thief even though she was captured on a security camera in the post office -inside the Spennymoor Co-op -at the times the money was withdrawn.

Ian West, in mitigation, said Dewar accepted the offences were mean and said she deserved to be jailed.