HSE home help gets suspended sentence for stealing from pensioner

Shirley O’Connell took more than €11,000 from 89-year-old woman’s bank account

A former HSE home help who stole more than €11,000 from an 89-year-old housebound woman she was caring for has been given a suspended eight month sentence.

Shirley O’Connell (47) from Douglas in Cork pleaded guilty to nine counts of theft contrary to Section 4 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences Act of sums between October 2016 and February 2018.

Det Garda Denis Callanan told Cork District Court the matter came to light in April 2018 when the victim was checking on some banking matters with her son and noticed three withdrawals in February.

The woman was adamant she had not made these withdrawals and when they checked on her bank account, they found further withdrawals that she did not make.


Det Garda Callanan said the woman and her son reported the matter to gardaí who interviewed a number of home helps that were calling to assist her on a regular basis.

Gardaí liaised with the head of the HSE Home Help service and identified a pattern to the withdrawals. In August 2018, O'Connell presented at Togher Garda station for interview and admitted the thefts.

Det Garda Callanan said O’Connell had access to the pensioner’s ATM card and knew her PIN number and had withdrawn varying sums on various dates over the 16-month period.

He said O’Connell had co-operated fully with gardaí and had no previous convictions.

Defence solicitor Pat Horan said O'Connell had no rational explanation for her actions other than she was in dire financial straits at the time. She recognised the breach of trust that she had committed and was hugely remorseful. She also found the court experience traumatic and had self referred herself for psychiatric treatment.

She repaid all monies with assistance from her family and she wanted to apologise to the injured party for her actions, he said.

Judge Olann Kelleher noted from a victim impact statement that it had a devastating effect on the victim in that she had lost confidence in her home helps.

He noted that O’Connell had pleaded guilty and repaid all the stolen money.

He said he believed the appropriate sentence was one of eight months but he would suspend it for two years though he warned O’Connell she would go to jail if she ever came before the courts again.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times