THE manager of a nursing home who stole almost £11,000 from an 81-year-old resident was spared jail yesterday.

Fiona Morgan, 40, was heavily in debt when she took cheques for thousands of pounds at a time from the confused elderly woman resident at the Windsor Court nursing home, in Stockton.

Divorcee Morgan, from Hartlepool, is now barred for life from working in the care industry.

Judge George Moorhouse said that although she deserved to go to prison, it would be a catastrophic event for her children, who did not know about her appearance at Teesside Crown Court.

Morgan said she was deeply ashamed of her behaviour, which she described to a probation officer as "the worst thing I have done in my life".

In mitigation, Paul Newcombe, said Morgan was in dire financial trouble and she had three county court orders against her when she began the thefts in February 2003.

The resident offered to give her money, but Morgan had signed an employment contract which banned accepting unauthorised gifts from residents, especially of cash.

Graeme Gaston, prosecuting, said that the elderly woman was forgetful and between February 2003 and January last year a number of cheques were drawn on her bank account.

Judge Moorhouse said: "It is quite clear that the loss of a mother at this stage of your children's lives will have a catastrophic effect upon them. I am going to take this as exceptional circumstances."

Morgan, of Westbourne Road, was given a 12 months jail sentence suspended for 12 months with supervision after she pleaded guilty to four charges of stealing a total of £10,972 over seven months.

The judge ordered her to pay full compensation within six months and he also confiscated a similar amount from her assets.