A carer who stole €20,000 from an elderly woman suffering from terminal cancer and then burned the cash has walked free from court.
Marjorie Gallagher stole €5,000 bundles of cash which Bridget McLaughlin, of Meenmore, Dungloe, had hidden because she did not trust banks.
The 56-year-old HSE carer was caught when Ms McLaughlin's family installed secret CCTV cameras in her home after they were accused of taking her life savings.
Gallagher, of Maghery, Dungloe, admitted her crimes after being interviewed by gardai.
She was found to have €5,000 stuffed down her trousers but claimed that on the three previous occasions, she had simply burned the stolen money.
She appeared before Judge John Aylmer at Letterkenny Circuit Court yesterday to answer four counts of theft of €5,000.
Just days before her death, Ms McLaughlin (76) wrote a harrowing victim impact statement in which she referred to Gallagher as "evil".
Members of her family, including some of her grandchildren, cried as her statement was read out in court.
"It's in God's hands but I want you to know of my disgust at Marjorie Gallagher and what she has done to our family," she wrote.
"She has robbed us over and over again and lied to us over and over again.
"When I was so weak and so sick she went through my home and stole my life savings that Packie, my dear husband, may he rest in peace, and myself worked very hard for all our life.
"How despicable is this person, she turns my stomach and makes me sick.
"Marjorie was employed by the HSE to care for me but she is not a carer, she is a professional thief and a liar and I can only imagine the damage she has done for over 17 years supposedly caring for elderly and vulnerable Alzheimer's patients.
"It frightens me to think of it and how evil, calculated and cunning she is and I worry she will just walk away free.
"When I didn't know who was stealing from me that was soul-destroying. I had to question my son. Do you know how hard that was? I even feel sick thinking of it, God love him too he was so strong and said we will get this sorted even in the midst of the heartbreak.
"I want people to know how dangerous Marjorie Gallagher is as she groomed my family and me."
The court was told that Gallagher's family had gathered €20,000 which they wanted to offer to the estate of the late Ms McLaughlin.
Gallagher's barrister, Shane Costelloe, said his client had serious mental health issues from previous incidents in her life.
She showed no trappings of wealth and the fact that she burned the money she stole was a reflection of these mental health issues.
Passing sentence, Judge Aylmer said the theft of €20,000 from an ill woman in her care must be viewed as a very serious offence.
He said such offences merited a prison sentence of five years on each charge.
However, because of Gallagher's mental health issues and the fact that she admitted her crimes, had shown remorse and had no previous convictions, he would reduce this to three-and-a-half years.
He added that in exceptional circumstances, the totality of any prison sentence can be suspended and this is what he was proposing to do on counts two, three and four against Gallagher.
He ordered her to remain under the care of the Probation Services for the next 18 months.
On count one he sentenced her to carry out 240 hours' community service.