Monday 14 October 2019

Hairdresser who stole cash for flights from seriously-ill pensioner avoids jail

Elaine Long pictured after her court appearance. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Elaine Long pictured after her court appearance. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Andrew Phelan

Andrew Phelan

A HAIRDRESSER who "betrayed" a seriously ill elderly customer by using her bank card to steal from her has been given community service instead of a jail sentence.

Elaine Long (47) heartlessly took the card to make cash withdrawals and book flights for herself as 88-year-old Bernie Clarke’s condition deteriorated.

The late Bernie Clarke, victim of theft by Elaine Long.
The late Bernie Clarke, victim of theft by Elaine Long.

A court heard how Mrs Clarke, who had lost the power of speech to a progressive brain disorder and communicated by writing, “loved” to see the accused call to her home do her hair, which was her weekly treat to herself.

After the betrayal was revealed, she “lost trust in people” and has since passed away.

Judge Geraldine Carthy ordered Long to carry out 240 hours of community service instead of five months in prison.

Speaking after court, Mrs Clarke's daughter Marian Murray said the family had been "devastated" by the crimes and she felt Long should have been jailed.

Long, a mother-of-two from Blackhorse Grove, North Circular Road, pleaded guilty to five counts of theft, with a total of €924 "proven" to have been stolen.

Garda Padraic Walsh told Dublin District Court in June 2017, Mrs Murray reported to him the compromised use of her mother’s AIB bank card in a cash withdrawal.

She attended the shop where the withdrawal was made and was “horrified” to identify Long.

Gardai established the accused had used the card to withdraw €500 from an ATM at Spar, Ashtown, Navan Road on June 4, and another €100 from a Maxol Service Station also on the Navan Road on June 14, 2017.

It was also used to pay for a €133 Dublin to Liverpool Ryanair flight in Long’s name on June 5, and another similar flight for €131 on June 9.

Long used the card to make a payment on her own Virgin Media account on May 30, 2017.

When questioned and shown evidence, Long denied using Mrs Clarke’s card and did not "show any remorse,” the garda said.

Mrs Clarke had sadly passed away last year, the court heard.

Mrs Murray said in a victim impact statement her mother had had progressive supranuclear palsy, which was akin to muscular dystrophy and could not speak.

Her mother began getting hair treatments at home from Elaine Long when she became sick in 2015 and was provided with a key to the family home, "such was the trust we had developed with her.”

“Elaine and mum had described each other as each other’s adopted mother/ daughter," Mrs Murray said. "Mum loved to see Elaine coming to do her hair. As mum became more immobile with her illness she also lost the power of speech and had to communicate with writing which left her very vulnerable. It was at this point that Elaine Long took advantage of the trust that been placed in her and honesty expected of her by the family and we are devastated by this betrayal of our mother.”

“I was speechless when I saw it was Elaine Long on the CCTV footage using our mum’s bank card. I had dinner on occasions with Elaine and could not believe that she would breach the trust our family and Mum herself had placed in her. We feel manipulated by Elaine Long. Mum lost her trust in people at a time in her later life when she actually really needed to be able to trust people."

Long had no prior convictions and at the time of the offences, her sister was in Liverpool undergoing cancer treatment, defence solicitor Amanda Connolly said.

The accused had been under financial pressure. The accused acknowledged that she had abused a position of trust, was deeply ashamed and remorseful and regretted the hurt she had caused, Ms Connolly said.

Long had compensation in court and Mrs Clarke's family wanted that to go to charity.

Judge Carthy praised Mrs Murray for her "eloquently delivered" victim impact statement.

She said the breach of trust had had a significant impact and nothing she could do would bring Mrs Clarke back. It was appropriate that the accused would "give back to society" rather than being sent to prison, she said,

Outside court, Mrs Murray said she did not think community service was enough becaue her mother was "very very vulnerable and it was a betrayal of her trust."

"I would have liked to have seen her serve time in prison," she said.

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