A YOUNG mum wept as a court heard she had stolen from an elderly widow to keep her home.

Former carer Jacqueline Manser, of the Curlews in Verwood, took £4,872.52 from the bank account of a 92-year-old over the course of five months.

The theft came to light after the victim's husband died and a solicitor was instructed to assist with her finances.

Selwyn Shapiro, prosecuting the case at Bournemouth Crown Court, said the elderly woman relied upon Manser for a range of tasks, including withdrawing her retirement pension from a Post Office account.

As a result, the defendant, 27 - who was at that time employed by a private caring company - had access to the account and a PIN number.

"The solicitor was doing her duties when she noticed in a bank statement a series of withdrawals," Mr Shapiro said.

"As a result of that, a police investigation started and the account studied more carefully.

"In fact, it was found that on occasion the account had been emptied by reason of those withdrawals."

Manser was arrested and interviewed, telling police she had withdrawn funds from the Post Office account on 17 occasions.

On 14 of those, the defendant deliberately took more than required by the victim, pocketing the excess.

"She said in her person life that she was struggling with huge debts that had spiralled out of control," Mr Shapiro said.

"She was on the verge of losing her rented property."

All of the stolen funds were spent on the defendant's rent, it was said.

Mitigating for Manser, Guy Draper said: "She understands that this was the wrong thing to do and she took advantage of a vulnerable old lady."

He said Manser had demonstrated "full remorse", adding: "She found herself in financial dire straits.

"She took an opportunity born of desperation to keep her family afloat. She is a sole carer for a young daughter."

Mr Draper described the offending as an "aberration", and said Manser has lost her job as a result of the court proceedings and is currently in receipt of £143 a fortnight in benefits.

Manser, who admitted theft by employee on her first appearance before magistrates, was spared prison by Judge Jonathan Fuller.

However, the judge told her: "This was a wicked and mean offence.

"The victim is 92, lives alone, has recently been widowed and lacks the mental capacity to look after her own affairs."

However, Judge Fuller conceded Manser's personal circumstances also make her vulnerable to a degree.

The defendant was sentenced to 12 months in prison suspended for two years and an activity requirement of 25 days.

Judge Fuller told Manser: "This is an exceptional course but entirely justified in your circumstances."