Woman from St Helens who betrayed elderly neighbour in 'despicable' theft spared jail

Clair Woodward was spared jail as the judge said it would have a "significant harmful impact" on her children. Credit: Liverpool Echo

A mum-of-three who stole from a vulnerable neighbour who had treated her like "family" has been spared jail.

Clair Woodward "borrowed" thousands of pounds from pensioner, who had memory problems and even sent her children round to ask for cash.

Her crimes came to light after CCTV revealed her making late night withdrawals from a cash point.

The 35-year-old single mum walked free from Liverpool Crown Court with a suspended jail term because of her children.

Trevor Parry-Jones, prosecuting, said the case was "troubling" as the victim was a retired teacher, who had suffered two bleeds on the brain.

Woodward had "borrowed" thousands of pounds. There were no charges in relation to this amount but it was investigated by the police. Credit: Liverpool Echo

The victim lived on her own in St Helens, where Woodward moved in 2019 with her two children, including a boy with ADHD, who the victim began helping with his learning.She said: "Clair was sending her children round on her behalf to borrow goods and money, taking advantage of me."She added: "I even emptied my two freezers for her as she said she had no food for the children."

The prosecutor said Woodward also started "borrowing" money, which she said she would pay back.He said there were no charges in relation to this amount - more than £5,000 but less than £10,000 in total - but it was investigated by the police.

But Mr Parry-Jones said it was "clear" the victim was being "used and pressured".

The men will appear at Liverpool Crown Court in April

The victim sometimes drove Woodward and her children around, but in March 2020, her boyfriend was stopped by police for driving the victim's car, when she didn't know he had it.Mr Parry-Jones said the woman had a long term carer, Louise Molyneux, who raised concerns with police, but the victim was told "it was one word against another".But in December 2020, CCTV from cash points showed Woodward making 16 unauthorised withdrawals - often late at night.

She also made three phone banking transactions, asking for money to be transferred to a friend of the victim, but in fact to her own account.In total Woodward stole £876.98, but when interviewed by police she denied any knowledge, until confronted with CCTV and phone evidence.

Clair Woodward leaving court

Woodward, who had no previous convictions, admitted theft and fraud. Kate Morley, defending, said Woodward is "thoroughly and rightly embarrassed and ashamed. In hindsight she appreciates how despicable her behaviour has been."

She added that abusive relationships left her with depression and anxiety and that her pregnancy left her worrying about how she would afford a baby on her own. She said: "Alone and with a baby on the way, she embarked on this spate of dishonest and despicable transactions."The impact of custody on Ms Woodward would be severe, but the impact on her children would be life changing and catastrophic."

Ms Morley said Woodward had three children, aged 12, nine and 10-months-old. She added her client wanted to pay the victim back at a rate of £50 a month from her Universal Credit.Recorder Michael Blakey told Woodward: "You decided you would take advantage of that lady."He said: "She out of the goodness of her heart lent you lots of money, in the thousands, which you agreed to pay back, which you had no intention of doing so."You're not to be sentenced for that at all, but it's part and parcel of the background."

Recorder Blakey said Woodward had a "very difficult background" but "that clearly cannot be any excuse whatsoever for what you did."

He said: "It was cruel, it was deceitful by you, and it was a significant breach of the trust that she had in you.He said the crimes crossed the custody threshold "by a country mile".But he said Woodward pleaded guilty, was of good character, there was a realistic prospect of rehabilitation and jailing her would have a "significant harmful impact" on her children.

He handed her four months in prison, suspended for 12 months, with a 15-day Rehabilitation Activity Requirement, and an eight-week home curfew, from 9pm to 6am daily.