NEWS

2011-12-13

Carer theft

A CARER 'breached her position of trust' after she tried to break into the safe of the severely disabled man she looked after and steal his money.

Michelle Warburton, 36, was found guilty of two counts of attempted theft at Birmingham Crown Court on Friday.

She was caught on CCTV apparently tampering with the safe, which was in a wardrobe at Trevor Thomas' bungalow in Kings Heath, Birmingham, but failing to get access.

It contained Mr Thomas' medication and up to GBP400 in cash. He is wheelchair bound and suffers with Dystonia and Cerebral Palsy, which also affects his speech.

The jury had been shown footage on Wednesday of Warburton going into the spare room and crouching down in the dark beside the combination safe.

They took two hours to find Warburton guilty on both counts.

Rhydian James, prosecuting, opening the case on Wednesday: "The case is about a woman who was in a position of trust. The defendant was a carer.

"Over the weekend of the 12 and 13 March, CCTV showed the defendant going  to that spare room on a number of occasions.

"She goes into the room. She does not turn the lights on and she opens the wardrobe door.

"She crouches down, leans into the wardrobe and her hands are in touching distance of the keyboard."

He continued:"The prosecution case is that by doing that she is attempting to steal from Trevor Thomas. She wanted what was in that safe.

"The inference that can be properly drawn would be shown on the CCTV, is her bending over trying to get into the safe, trying to get into the safe by breaking the combination code. That members of the jury is a breach of trust.

"The only plausible reason why she was in that room crouched down... is that she was trying combinations to get into the safe."

The court heard single mum-of-two Warburton, of Druids Heath, Birmingham, had worked for Mr Thomas for 18-months and helped with his personal hygiene, taking him out and putting him to bed.

She was only permitted to go into the spare room to open and close the curtains.

However, she was caught on CCTV entering the room eight times over a 48-hour period.

The clips showed her going into the room three times on Sunday, March 13 and closing the door behind her. A further five clips showed her opening the wardrobe door and crouching down in close proximity to the safe's digital keypad.

In one clip, she is seen crawling on her hands and knees. 

"The prosecution say she knew of the possibility of the CCTV camera being there and because of this she tried to hide her actions, " Mr James added.

"There is sufficient time, enough for her to open the wardrobe, and try the safe."

Mr Thomas' mother Patricia told the jury Warburton was one of three carers who looked after her son.

She said GBP70 housekeeping money was kept in it for Trevor, with six to eight weeks worth inside amounting to between GBP300 and 400.

Only her, her partner and Trevor knew the four digit code, she told the jury.

Asked why he had a safe, Mrs Thomas said:" We had a number of things go missing and to safeguard Trevor we put a safe in. He has to feel he has some responsibility in his life.

"Nobody is given permission to go in the safe or in the wardrobe. Michelle only went in to open the curtains and close them."

Mrs Thomas' partner, Edward Leng, who is also one of Trevor's carers, said that there would have been "no need" for a carer to enter the spare room.

He said: "In the role as a carer there would be no need to go in that wardrobe at all."

The combination was changed in February, about three weeks before the alleged offences.

Warburton is charged with two counts of attempted theft.

Mrs Thomas told the court she installed three CCTV cameras at her son's home in March after noticing things had been going missing. One was located outside on the driveway, another was in the back garden and a third was in the hallway of the bungalow.

The camera was not hidden, however Warburton would not have known it had been installed when she arrived for work on March 13, jurors were told.

Mrs Thomas viewed the footage - which also showed the defendant on her hands and knees at one point -  a week later before going to the police.

She said: "I was horrified and upset. I found it very, very distressing. I was upset because I had invited someone in that I thought I could trust for my son."

She claimed there was no legitimate reason for the carer to be in the spare room.

"She was in the dark and she had the wardrobe door open. She was in there for a few minutes or so with the wardrobe door open with the whole visual of the safe," Mrs Thomas, from Kings Norton, Birmingham, added.

She broke down in tears under cross-examination while her son Trevor, 44, and Mr Leng sat in the public gallery.

The court also heard how Mrs Warburton said she could not remember going in to the spare room on March 12 or March 13 when quizzed by police. 

During two interviews under caution, Mrs Warburton initially told interviewing officers that she didn't remember going in to the spare room at all that weekend. 

She admitted to police that she was aware of the safe's existence, but that carers would only look inside it after Trevor had entered the code to open the safe while they waited outside the room. 

As she gave her evidence, Miss Warburton claimed that she had entered the room to look for a phone number.

Defending, Gurdeep Garcha said there were legitimate reasons for Warburton to enter the room, such as to get to the clothes horse, use the fax machine, access paperwork and get Mr Thomas' manual wheelchair.

Mr Garcha said: "In your mind you had no doubt about what Miss Warburton was trying to do. In your mind it is clear. She is trying to steal from your son. You had made your mind up immediately upon watching that footage because you wanted to get her into trouble."

Warburton was released on unconditional bail by Judge Elizabeth Fisher until she is sentenced in the new year.