A Penryn woman has been sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for two years, after using power of attorney to defraud her aunt of almost £100,000.

Catherine Gail Aitkenhead, a 48 year old former practice manager with the NHS, from Penvale Crescent, was ordered to repay £95,000 which she spent following the sale of a house belonging to her aunt, Mrs Jean Dryden.

Speaking for the prosecution, Elaine Hobson told the Truro Crown Court that Mrs Aitkenhead had taken power of attorney over her aunt in 2006, and following the sale of the house for £170,000 had taken her into her own home to care for her, and had used “a large part” of the money “for her own purposes.”

She said Mrs Aitkenhead had told police interviewers that the money had been spent on “shopping, items for herself, and family expenses,” that she had been trying to use the money for her finances and “it ran away with her.”

Concerns were first raised following a safeguarding review when Mrs Dryden was admitted to a Perranporth care home, after a previous assessment in 2007 had judged her able to self fund her care until 2013.

At an earlier hearing Mrs Aitkenhead was accused of taking £156,843 between 2007 and 2011, with a final approximate figure of £95,000 agreed between the defending and prosecuting parties.

Robert Linford, defending Mrs Aitkenhead, said that although the money had been mis-handled, a lot of it “was spent for the benefit of the aunt whose money it was.”

He said Mrs Aitkenhead had cared for her aunt for a long period of time before she became unable to continue.

Passing sentence, Judge Christopher Harvey Clark QC, described Mrs Aitkenhead as a “compassionate and caring person” very much loved by her family, who knew that the money shouldn’t have been spent on the way that it was.

He said: “You worked for 25 years in the NHS and became a practice manager. Because of this fraud you were dismissed, and that must come as a severe blow to you and it may be that you will have difficulty finding fresh employment in the next few months because of publicity attracted to this matter.

“I take that into account as well as the deterioration of your own health.

“I take the view that you do indeed truly regret what happened and your genuine remorse.

“You’re humiliated, and you've lost your good character, and in all the circumstances I’m prepared to suspend the sentence of two years for a period of two years.”

He added: “I can’t overlook the fact that under your aunt’s will you are the sole beneficiary and the money that you misappropriated using your power of attorney would have come to you in any event.

“The loser in all of this is really Cornwall Council.”

Mrs Aitkenhead was ordered to repay the money within two months, with Cornwall Council to receive £53,000, and Mrs Dryden to receive £42,000, and also to pay £500 in costs and a £100 victim surcharge.

She will no longer have power of attorney over the finances of her aunt, who will be cared for in a nursing home.