A CARER who stole more than £3,300 from an autistic man was told he thoroughly deserved to be sent to prison.

But Recorder Adam Feest QC stopped short of jailing Frank Mwelli – saying it was more important he paid back the cash to his victim.

Instead, he sentenced him to eight months imprisonment suspended for a year and ordered him to do 150 hours of unpaid work.

“If you think you’re going to have an easy time over the next 12 months you need to think again because you’re not,” Recorder Feest said.

Swindon Crown Court heard Mwelli, 56, was working as a carer at a four bedroom care home in Peatmoor.

It was there he met his victim, a man with severe autism who had lived at the home since 2012.

Staff had a system in place for getting out cash for the three residents at the home.

Typically, carers would take the men to the cash point and help them take out money using a bank card. The system was in place until April last year.

Prosecutor Simon Goodman said: “There came a time in October 2017 when the victim became reluctant to leave the house and so it was agreed the support staff would attend the ATM on his behalf.

“There was a relatively simple system how they would do that. They would come back, get a receipt and write in a cash record what they had removed from the resident’s bank account. “The card and record were kept in a cash tin in a cupboard at the address.”

Mwelli would go to the ATM and take out £50, get a receipt then take out a further £50 that he would pocket. The theft was discovered in April last year after staff noticed a discrepancy in the records. That led to a thorough investigation in which police found money went missing at the same time Mwelli was on duty.

Meanwhile, the victim’s brother, who is responsible for his finances and who was paying cash into the spending account, noticed the amount of money in it was falling at an alarming rate. He was about to contact the care home firm when he was approached by the police.

In a victim statement read to the court, the brother said: “I feel utterly disgusted that a person who was supposed to be looking after vulnerable adults would actually steal from them.” He accused the care company of failing his brother through poor procedures in handling his money.

Mwelli, of Boldrewood, Liden, was found to have taken £3,370 between 2016 and the end of 2018.

He answered no comment to questions put to him at his police interview, but pleaded guilty to theft when he appeared at the magistrates' court.

Chris Smyth, defending, said his client was a man of previous good character, who had begun taking the cash after his father had died and he was called on to look after his elderly mother who lived in Africa. “Looking at the references and everything you’ve heard about him, it’s a complete aberration for him to behave in the way that he did,” he said.

His client was in poor health. Despite that he was studying at a Cardiff university for qualifications that would enable him to become an environmental health officer. He was a dad-of-one.

Recorder Feest tore into Mwelli: “For a period of just over two years, you on different occasions took it upon yourself not only to withdraw cash for him but withdraw cash for yourself – to steal it from your victim at a time when he didn’t know what you were doing. But even if he did because of his lack of capacity he would have been powerless to stop you. It’s difficult to imagine a more vulnerable victim in these particular circumstances

“You covered your tracks in a variety of ways, largely by not providing a record for the amounts you took out and but in your own pocket.”

He added: “The only question for me is whether I send you to prison and in many ways you thoroughly deserve prison.

“Preying upon vulnerable people such as your victim is a cowardly offence. If you were to send you to prison the guidelines suggest a starting point of 12 months.

“You were acting in a thoroughly dishonest and deceitful way.”

The judge said: “I’m not going to send you to prison for this reason. Compensation needs to be repaid and in my judgement the best way of enabling you to do that is by keeping you out of prison.”

He also handed Mwelli a two-month curfew.

Recorder Feest said he would deal with any breaches of the order personally: “I can say this to you. Unless you have the best excuse possible for breaching this order I will make it my business to come back to this crown court and send you to prison. This is your one and only chance.”

Welcoming the sentence, Det Con Nick Bishop said: “Frank Mwelli was in a position of trust which he abused, stealing a lot of money from this man over nearly three years.

“This isn’t just about the money, this has really had an impact on those involved. I hope today’s sentencing sends a message to anyone in a position of trust, who may consider stealing from those they care for, that you will be caught and face justice before the courts.”