A mum who claims she stole £12,100 jewellery from an elderly couple to raise funds to bring her son’s body home from Peru sobbed as she was jailed for a year.
Elsie White, 62, took advantage of Frederick Harris and his disabled wife while cleaning for them, Preston Crown Court heard.
She had used diplomatic channels – MPs, the media, and international pressure groups – to try and get the body of Jason Cato, who died while on parole in the South American country, brought home but turned to crime in desperation.
Jason, 39, who was released from the notorious Lurigancho prison in Lima after his family say he was thrown from a third-floor balcony, died on March 10 this year and was buried in an unmarked grave.
Her other son Jamie Cato – one of the first Britons to be extradited to Peru – was convicted of drug smuggling after a trial and White took out loans to cover his legal fees.
He was arrested days before completing a UK jail sentence for his role in transporting amphetamine into Cumbria.
She hasn’t herself profited by keeping the money. She sold her own jewellery as well
Preston Crown Court heard the grandmother, of South Promenade, Cleveleys, had known her victim for around eight years.
Judge James Adkin said: “Your remit was not limited to working as a cleaner, often you were paid to sit with his wife while he was out and so you were clearly given a significant degree of trust.
“You’re a woman of previous good character. Your pre sentence report details an unhappy personal history, the loss of a son and another extradited to Peru relating to controlled drugs.
“I’ve listened to everything your barrister has said but it seems to me the circumstances of this case were particularly mean.”
Prosecuting, Karen Brooks said: “ Mr Harris made it very clear there was a lot of trust in the defendant and he often asked her to sit with his wife, who is disabled, while he was out.
“The circumstances came about when Mr Harris decided he wanted to repair a bracelet that belonged to him he went to his bedside cabinet and was unable to find it and while searching for it he discovered his wife’s jewellery had also been stolen from her bedside drawer. He also became aware £65 cash was taken from her handbag.”
The court heard four bracelets, four necklaces, seven rings, seven earrings, two watches and a brooch were sold on by White for £3,000.
At first she denied any knowledge but confessed when Mr Harris confronted her and told her there was CCTV in his home.
In a statement he said he was aware she had financial issues, and difficulties with her sons legal fees and had offered to help her in the past. He said he did not want her to be punished unnecessarily but added: “I do think she should answer for her wrongdoing.”
Defending, Paul Humphreys said: “ Two of her sons had been in Peru. One of them died in Peru in suspicious circumstances – it appears he had been thrown from a balcony. His body was buried by his Peruvian girlfriend in an unmarked grave.
“She didn’t know where to turn, she was desperate.
“Her mental health has suffered, she’s obviously feeling the pressure. Her second marriage had broken up.
“She’s done what she can, taken out loans she struggled to pay back, and she thought finally she had a way to get his body returned.
“She hasn’t herself profited by keeping the money. She sold her own jewellery as well.”