A Peterborough neighbourhood police and community support officer befriended a family on benefits and then took complete control of their finances and plundered their bank account, stealing more than £10,000, a court heard.
PCSO Amanda Butler kept the family’s bank card so only she could withdraw money, after telling the single mum of three children her finances were in a mess.
The officer did their shopping and kept them short of money.
When the mother Ursula Morrison complained to the officer that she wasn’t buying them enough food for the week, she was told by the PCSO “That’s a jolly good thing because you are all overweight.”
For months it’s alleged the mother had no access to her own bank card and the £1800 a month she was receiving in benefits and allowances for her and her three children.”
Michael Speak, prosecuting, said as a result Butler was able to help herself to £10,884 of the family’s money.
Butler (47), is on trial at Luton crown court where she pleads not guilty to the theft of the money, two counts of stealing property from the mother’s teenage daughter and fraud by using the bank card to obtain goods for herself.
Mr Speak, outlining the case to the jury, told them that as a PCSO, the defendant’s ‘beat’ was the Orton Goldhay area of Peterborough where, in 2010, the mother and her three children were living.
The single mum had a seven year old son and two older children in their teens.
The prosecutor said the officer befriended the mother, and went on “For whatever reason she came to the conclusion this family needed her help.”
Luton Crown Court told the officer began visiting the family home when she was in uniform and on duty, and on her days off.
The court heard that she would help clean inside the council house, painted inside the property and began buying furniture for the family, domestic appliances and even their clothes.
The mother didn’t have a bank account and was in the habit of cashing giros for her benefits and allowance at the local post office.
Mr Speak said the PCSO told the woman she needed to open a bank account for all her benefits to be paid into, telling her “Your finances are in a mess.”
The jury was then told the officer helped the woman open an account into which her benefits of around £1800 a month were to be paid into.
It’s alleged she told the mother not to open any letters that arrived from the bank and that she would deal with them.
“The mother says from the moment the bank account was opened, the defendant said ‘I am keeping control of this account completely,’ and she kept the card and PIN number,” said Mr Speak.
He went on “It’s an extremely unusual state of affairs for a PCSO to have complete control of one family’s financial circumstances, but it was a state of affairs she had engineered.”
The prosecutor said Butler “took it upon herself” to take care of the food shopping for the mother and her three children, which he said had “an unfortunate side effect” for them.
He told the court “The mother complained they didn’t have so much food because what was being bought wasn’t enough. They complained they were not getting enough food and she said ‘That’s a jolly good thing because you are all overweight’.”
The jury was told that at first the mother had been grateful for the officer’s help but, gradually, doubts about what was happening began to creep in.
The prosecutor said she had been allowed to keep one giro cheque paid to her weekly for £55 a week as a carers allowance. It’s alleged the defendant told her that the money would be for her to “live on” each week.
When she complained it wasn’t enough, she would be given £100 sometimes once a week or sometimes it would have to last two weeks.
Mr Speak said the mother didn’t do anything because she came to be frightened of the defendant, who she thought was a bully.
“This woman carried with her the aura of a police officer. The mother was intimidated by the defendant as a person and by that aura she carried with her because of her association with the police. She will say she didn’t know what to do and let it carry on.”
The court was told it was the woman’s teenage son who suspected “things weren’t right” and spoke to another colleague of Mrs Butler in April 2012.
The court heard the defendant immediately stopped all contact with the family and returned their bank card and PIN, as well as a bundle of till receipts.
In October of the following year the mother made a complaint to the police about what had been going on.
Mr Speak said that it had been calculated from when the bank account had been set up in late 2010 through to the April of 2012 that just under £31,000 had been paid in the form of benefits and allowances due to the family.
The prosecutor said an examination of the bank account records and statements had worked out that just under £20,000 had been taken out legitimately by the PCSO.
But he said £10,884 had gone missing and he told the court “It’s gone missing because the defendant stole it.”
As well as pleading not guilty to the theft of the money, Butler of Turnstone Way, Stanground, Peterborough, denies stealing a TV and a mobile phone from the teenage daughter.
She also denies an offence of fraud which alleges she had used the mother’s bank card at a branch of Asda in Caerphilly in Wales to buy goods for herself.
Giving evidence from behind a screen, the mother told the jury that at first the PCSO had been “really supportive,” telling the jury “She really did help me. She used to help me in the house and organise me.”
She said the officer told her she needed to “budget.”
“She said we were too fat and needed to lose weight,” the mother told the court.
But she said she had really trusted the defendant, telling the court “I really trusted her because she was a PCSO.”
With Butler ordering the food from Tesco, the woman said there was never enough in the house and her eldest son was “always hungry.”
The mother then told the court “Any letters from the bank I wasn’t allowed to open. I had to wait ‘til she came and she would sort them out.”
She said she had been grateful for the help, but told the jury “sometimes it made me feel like a child.”
The woman said Mrs Butler would buy clothes from Tesco for her youngest son and give her teenage son her husband’s T-shirts.