A cleaner who systematically stole jewellery and cash worth almost £45,000 from her clients to help her drug addict daughter has narrowly escaped an immediate prison sentence.
Grandmother Judith Lees, 59, had worked for years as a trusted cleaner, but threats of violence from her daughter’s drug dealers led to her stealing “irreplaceable” family heirlooms from some of her victims.
Bradford Crown Court heard today (Monday) how Lees, of Mulberry Court, Golcar, was eventually caught red-handed after suspicions about her activities led to one Greetland couple setting up covert recording equipment in the kitchen of their home.
Prosecutor Soheil Khan told the court how the footage showed Lees “rifling” through drawers and trying to gain access to children’s money boxes.
He said over the period of Lees’ offending against that family they lost property worth just over £20,000.
“The indictment reflects the Crown’s case that for a period of time between the end of 2011 and September 2016 while working as a domestic cleaner for various victims in this case the defendant was acting dishonestly and stole jewellery and cash from people who trusted her and gave her employment,” said Mr Khan.
The court heard that the total value of the jewellery and cash which Lees stole had been put at £44,735 and none of it had been recovered.
Lees, whose drug addict daughter died last year, pleaded guilty to five charges of burglary and four of theft.
Mr Khan said another couple who had been told about Lees’ activities also caught her red-handed after putting money in a locked box and later finding that £25 was missing.
When they confronted her over the theft she told them:”When you have a daughter like mine you have to do it.”
The court heard that the eldest victim, a 78-year-old woman who lived in Greetland, thought she had some kind of memory problem because items were going missing.
In her victim impact statement she said family members thought she might have dementia and some of the jewellery which was stolen had been family heirlooms which she planned to hand down to children and grandchildren.
Barrister Charles Blatchford, for Lees who now cares for her late daughter’s child, said his client felt a great sense of shame and remorse.
He said publicity about the case had led to her feeling embarrassment about what she had done and the harm she had caused.
Mr Blatchford stressed it was not a case involving any kind of lavish lifestyle and he confirmed that the stolen property went to Lees’ daughter to help her with her difficulties.
Judge David Hatton QC described the crimes as “despicable and mean” and he noted that they had involved planning and organisation.
“So far as it is possible to place a monetary value on the property stolen it was just a little shy of £45,000,” said the judge.
“But many of the items were priceless and irreplaceable and of very considerable sentimental value.”
The judge said there was no evidence of lavish living on Lees’ part and it seemed that money was used to stave off threats of violence towards her late daughter and herself.
Judge Hatton said the offending thoroughly merited a significant and immediate prison sentence, but he had to balance that with the welfare of her granddaughter.
The judge said it was a “very fine balance” but he was prepared to suspend her two-year jail sentence for the next two years.
Lees will have to do 220 hours of unpaid work for the community and she will have to comply with a 30-day rehabilitation activity requirement.
She is also going face a further hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act later in the year which may result in come compensation for her victims.