The woman avoided actual time behind bars yesterday. File photo.
The woman avoided actual time behind bars yesterday. File photo.

City cleaner stole $26k of dementia suffering mum’s pension

AS HER mother struggled with the everyday battles of dementia, Janelle Mary Knight was siphoning a total of $26,000 out of her pension behind her back.

Knight, as the power of attorney, drained the funds out of her 83-year-old mother's account in what a city Magistrate yesterday labelled "a significant breach of trust".

The court heard she took $500 from her mother's fortnightly pension payments to make purchases on shopping trips for herself, "seeking a high" after what her solicitor claimed were lows of depression.

Toowoomba Courthouse Photo Bev Lacey / The Chronicle
The woman was not ordered to pay the money back to her mother. Bev Lacey

That left her mother with $394 to survive and pay bills with for the next 14 days.

Knight persisted with the fraudulent activity for a period of 18 months across 2016 and 2017 before the Office of the Public Guardian began investigating.

What they found resulted in the 56-year-old mum fronting court yesterday after police charged the cleaner with fraud.

The maximum penalty for the offence is five years in jail.

"Imprisonment is entirely appropriate to convey the message that this type of offending and breach of trust (is not acceptable)," police prosecutor Senior Constable Julia Wheaton told the court.

Knight's solicitor Brad Skuse had other ideas.

Mr Skuse initially submitted that probation was a suitable option for his client, only to be told by Magistrate Catherine Pirie she needed to be shown the authority given the gravity of the charge.

"Why submit it?" she said.

Sen Const Wheaton told the court the offending began after Knight's mother's dementia worsened in 2015.

The lengthy proceeding in the Toowoomba Magistrates Court yesterday was stood down twice so material relating to similar cases could be obtained by Knight's solicitor and Magistrate Pirie.

Knight pleaded guilty to the charge of fraud, but was still sentenced to two years' jail suspended for three years.

Knight will serve no actual time behind bars and Magistrate Pirie did not order that the defendant pay restitution of $26,000 to her mother on the grounds that her means were limited as a cleaner.