A WOMAN who stole the £32k life savings from the 84-year-old pensioner she was caring for and considered family has narrowly avoided jail – after her victim wrote to court asking for custody to be spared.

Josie McLachlan, 48, of High Street, Tarporley, had been treated by the victim as a "niece" and, although they weren't blood relations, were considered family, with McLachlan calling her "granny", Chester Crown Court heard on Friday, November 17.

But McLachlan breached the trust in the "most grotesque" way, Recorder Michael Hayton said, as the defendant had forged numerous cheques over 14 months between February 2022 and May 2023, stealing a total of £32,713.50.

McLachlan even lied to the victim's face by, in her presence, pretending to be on the phone to the bank to report the fraud, when she knew she was the one responsible.

The judge said he had "no pleasure" in passing a suspended sentence and it was the "bitterest of ironies" that the person who ensured mother-of-two McLachlan would be going home to her children instead of HMP Styal was the victim's "spirit of generosity".

'Lying to my face'

Prosecuting, Shannon Stewart said McLachlan had previously pleaded guilty at Chester Magistrates Court to the fraud offence.

McLachlan had been caring for the victim and the victim's husband, the husband sadly passing away.

Concerns were later raised by the victim that someone had been using her chequebook. An investigation revealed McLachlan had been taking an average of £700 a week from the victim through forged cheques. NatWest bank later reimbursed the victim for the sum lost.

In her personal statement, the victim said she had treated McLachlan "like the daughter I never had" and someone "I wholeheartedly trusted", but her actions had caused her "great anguish".

The incident had taken a toll on her health and left her finding it difficult to trust people moving forward.

The victim added it was "heartbreaking" knowing McLachlan had been "lying to my face", but wanted the defendant to get the help that she needed but wouldn't seek herself to stop her offending in the future, and did not wish the court to pass a custodial sentence.

'Deeply ashamed'

In police interview, McLachlan admitted the offences, and did not know she had stolen as much as £32k, having not kept track of the figure.

She had one previous conviction from 2018 for theft by employee, for which she received a suspended sentence that was later activated following a breach.

Defending, Anna Price said McLachlan was "open and remorseful for the way she has behaved" and was "deeply ashamed" for the impact it had caused to the family.

The court heard McLachlan had been in a bad relationship at the time and she had "found herself in desperate measures", which was "an explanation, not an excuse" for her behaviour.

Since then, McLachlan was no longer in that relationship and has control over her own finances.

Ms Price said if McLachlan was sent to prison, it would put much of her family in a difficult position, including her two children and her parents, with McLachlan a carer for her mother, and the 88-year-old father now being a carer for the victim.

The judge said McLachlan had put them all into jeopardy with her "blatant, cruel, mean behaviour", and lying to the victim's face would have been "utterly, utterly devastating".

He added the offender should have "an ounce" of the generosity displayed by the victim, and "cynically" regarded the explanation that McLachlan stole hundreds of pounds each week for "day-to-day living".

Recorder Hayton said he had "almost no doubt" in his mind that if McLachlan had come to the victim and told her about her money troubles, the victim would have helped out in some way.

He told the defendant: "I hope you remember [the victim] when you look in the mirror for the rest of your life [and what you did]. It's a shame that can never really be washed away."

McLachlan received a two-year prison term, suspended for two years.

Recorder Hayton said: "You are saved by [the victim] – my goodness, it's the bitterest of ironies."

McLachlan must also carry out a six-month mental health treatment programme, 15 days of a rehabilitation activity requirement and 150 hours unpaid work.