Home help jailed for stealing from dying Castledawson pensioner

Ballymena Courthouse
Ballymena Courthouse

The family of an 87-year-old Castledawson woman has welcomed a judge’s decision to jail the home help who stole up to £1,500 from their mother even as she was dying.

Relatives of Josephine Lagan, who lived at Davison Villas in Castledawson before she passed away just before Christmas 2014, attended Ballymena Magistrates Court today (Wednesday) to see Phyllis Peacock (57), of Ballymacombs Road, Portglenone, handed a 10-month jail term.

The home help was snared when the family installed a so-called ‘nanny cam’ which showed heartless Peacock lifting Mrs Lagan’s purse.

Peacock, who cares for her own ill mother in her 90s, had previously denied one count of theft but at an earlier contest hearing at Magherafelt Court she was found guilty of stealing cash from Mrs Lagan on unknown dates between the start of 2014 and December 9 that year.

Appearing today for sentencing, it was heard she is continuing to deny her guilt and has shown no remorse.

A prosecutor said the late Mrs Lagan was “bed bound” at home and was receiving care which was provided by home helps including Peacock.

Mrs Lagan kept her purse close by when she was in bed and in 2014 family members began to suspect money was being taken.

On December 8 that year footage revealed Peacock entering a room and lifting a purse, opening it and then leaving with it after a colleague approached before returning the purse to a bedside table.

It was later discovered the purse had been “interfered with” and a total sum estimated at between £1,200 and £1,500 was stolen over a period of more than eleven months.

The prosecutor said the matter was reported to the police by social services the following day.

Mrs Lagan passed away on December 21, 2014.

When interviewed, Peacock, who had a previously clear criminal record, denied the offence.

Defence barrister Neil Moore said it was quite clear Peacock, married with two children, has not had her “troubles to seek” in the last number of years and that her husband suffered a heart attack.

He said she has given many years of service to the health trust and now faces disciplinary proceedings and more than likely, will lose her job.

Mr Moore added that she has lost her reputation which “lies in shreds and tatters”.

He said the defendant cares for her ailing mother who is in her 90s which he appreciated was “something of an irony” and Mr Moore said Peacock understands the care which should be provided to the elderly.

The defence barrister said his client was previously of “exemplary character”.

He said she has health issues and “significant issues” to deal with and that prison would have a significant impact on her psychological well being.

Jailing Peacock for 10 months, District Judge Peter King said it was a difficult case for a whole raft of reasons.

He praised the “great dignity of the family of the late Mrs Lagan” which he said stood in stark contrast to the attitude Peacock had maintained.

He told her: “It appears you wish to maintain your innocence.”

Judge King said there had been “harrowing nanny cam footage” of the family’s frail and dying mother suffering a theft.

He said the family should be proud of the steps they had taken to discharge their obligation to their mother which meant they were getting “a measure of justice”.

The judge then said it was important he sent out a message that any carer who abuses their position and takes advantage of a frail and elderly lady in their charge has to expect that jail is the only outcome.

Peacock was freed on bail of £900 to appeal.

Afterwards, the late Mrs Lagan’s son, Eugene Lagan (62) from Ballyronan, said: “We are happy enough with the sentence but a wee bit disappointed that she is going to appeal it and we will maybe have to go through this all again.

“We are happy with the sentence and hope she loses her job so she can’t do this on anybody else again - that she can’t inflict her evil on another old person.

“We are disappointed she showed no remorse, we are disgusted at that; she didn’t care about our mother, all she cared about was stealing money from her.

“She was seen. When the judge looked at it on a 40inch screen in Magherafelt Court it showed her searching through the bed, taking the purse, opening it and then when her colleague came behind her she ran away with it and then she came back and set it nicely back again.

“In the video she rubbed my mother’s head and said: ‘Are you all right wee Josie? Give me a wee smile’ but she was searching the bed and as soon as she found the purse she stopped talking. It was really disgusting.”

Mr Lagan said Peacock had been caring for his mother for over a year.

“We think she took the purse in front our mother and didn’t care if she seen it or not. She took money on the 8th of December and my mother died on December 21.

“My mother was a quiet woman who liked going out to bingo and stuff. She had lived there for years and never caused anybody any trouble.

“We suspected money was being taken and then started taking notes of which carer was in the house and it became a common denominator that Phyllis Peacock was always there and then we decided we would set up a camera and caught her the first day.

“She worked for the Northern Health Trust and was off for a week’s holiday and came back in that day.

“She was found guilty so hopefully now she will lose her job.

“This whole thing overshadowed our mother’s final days. We were running to police stations and giving statements, it was terrible what we went through.”

Mr Lagan added: “My mother was only five stone and after the doctor told us in November 2014 she had only a very short time to live, Phyllis came back in that evening she cried and kissed her. I think she was crying because there was no more money.

“She took money after being told my mother was dying.”