Care worker cleared after judge hits out at ‘dog’s breakfast’

A Thurlestone woman, who was last week acquitted at Plymouth Crown Court of stealing from a woman she cared for, has spoken out about her years of torment.

‘It’s been a difficult time for me and my family – and all the families involved,’ said Julie Wells, 55.

‘I do feel very sorry for the parents of the person concerned,’ she added.

‘I’m over the moon now, but I’ve been so worried over the last few years. I’m just ecstatic it’s over.’

Julie was initially interviewed by police on March 12, 2009, and said she co-operated with them throughout the investigation.

She was accused of stealing £3,500 from a 45 year-old woman with autism and learning difficulties that she cared for while employed by South Hams Support Services – an allegation, which she always denied.

Her trial at Plymouth Crown Court collapsed in spectacular style last Wednesday.
Prosecutor Gareth Evans announced he was offering no further evidence following examination of his first witness and he invited the judge Recorder Simon Levene, to direct a verdict of not guilty.

Mr Evans said: ‘If this evidence had been in the possession of the reviewing lawyer… this prosecution would not have been bought.’

The court heard there were discrepancies after receipts were found to be missing and £3,500 could not be accounted for.

Written records of money drawn out and receipts for spending were to be kept – but the cashbooks could not be produced.

Defence barrister Piers Norsworthy cross-examined the first prosecution witness Ken Morgan, chief executive of South Hams Support Services, who was Julie’s boss at the time.

Mr Morgan describ-ed how carers looking after clients with severe learning difficulties were allowed to use their bankcards to withdraw cash for them.

He explained that the cards and PIN numbers were kept in a safe, issued by senior staff who were supposed to record cards going in and out and who had taken them.

However, Mr Morgan admitted that in some cases the procedure had not been properly followed.

Recorder Levene was scathing in his judgement.

‘The system, which was supposed to safeguard 58 vulnerable people, was a complete dog’s breakfast,’ he said.

‘In practice, it was a shambles. It is difficult to pick out who did what and whether they acted dishonestly.

‘It would not be safe to let the trial go any further.’

Speaking after the trial, Julie said: ‘I am continuing my work as a nanny, but I am not going to work as a carer anymore.

‘I feel very let down from the lack of support from my employers at the time, South Hams Support Services.

A spokesperson for South Hams Support Services said: ‘We completely reviewed our policies and procedures when the discrepancies came to light.’

‘We support 50 plus people, employ 80 plus staff and have been operating for eight years. We have three stars from the care quality commission, the independent regulator of health and social care in England.

‘We have an excellent team of staff and support workers.’