A CARE worker has been jailed after helping herself to thousands of pounds belonging to vulnerable adults in order to fund her cocaine addiction.

Joanne Hacking was in debt to two dealers after being introduced to the drug by her husband at the age of 35, Bolton Crown Court heard.

So she began dipping into the cash kept for residents with learning disabilities living at their Mytham Road, Little Lever, home.

Hacking, now aged 42, stole more than £5,000 over a six month period, which ended after another member of staff reported a suspicion that she had taken £10 from one of the residents.

Bury Times: Joanne HackingJoanne Hacking

An investigation began and accounts checked which revealed more missing cash and, when questioned by police, the mother-of-two admitted taking it.

Adam White, prosecuting, told how Hacking had worked for Bolton Cares Ltd for 23 years, the last seven at the Little Lever home where four vulnerable residents, aged between 52 and 67, lived.

"One of the defendant's responsibilities was to help the residents manage their finances, something which they were unable to do by themselves," said Mr White.

Each resident paid £75 a week into a housekeeping account, with the debit card and any cash withdrawn kept in a secure wallet and staff making a note of withdrawals. A similar system was in place for the residents' own debit cards.

On February 5 last year a temporary member of staff raised a concern about Hacking with a manager and an investigation was launched, with the accounts being examined in detail.

"It was at this point it was discovered that withdrawals were being made from each of the accounts and a lesser amount would then be entered into the record, showing that money was disappearing somewhere throughout the transaction," said Mr White.

It was found that £1,911.50 was missing from the housekeeping account and from the accounts of the four residents, a total of £5,060 had gone.

The court heard that Hacking, of Green Way, Bolton, pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position and had begun paying back the cash.

She sat sobbing in the dock as Colin Buckle, defending, told how she had now lost her good name and a job she loved.

Bury Times: Joanne HackingJoanne Hacking

"She was a dedicated, passionate, hard-worker and for two decades she had a faultless and unblemished work record," he said.

But he added that, at a time when she was struggling with her mental health and her father was ill, she was introduced to cocaine my her then husband, who was a drug user.

"One night she made a horrendous error of judgement and took cocaine," said Mr Buckle, adding that her habit spiralled out of control and she became "desperate" for cash after getting in debt with drug dealers.

"This is a sad case, it really is," he said.

But while accepting character references about Hacking which described her as "kind, compassionate and caring" Judge John Edwards said her crime had been "wicked" and a"grotesque breach of trust".

Jailing her for seven months he told her: "It was significant betrayal of those who you purported to care for.

"These residents trusted you implicitly to keep them and their very precious savings safe.

"The care system relies on those called upon, and it is a calling, to serve the weak and the vulnerable. I appreciate you were in desperate straits to get your life on an even keel, courtesy of this awful addiction. I afraid that is an explanation but it's not an excuse and, in my judgement, it has to be immediate custody."

Following the sentencing a spokesman for Bolton Cares Ltd said: "We take such incidents extremely seriously and our thoughts go out to the individuals affected.

"Bolton Cares would like to assure the people we support and their families that we have stringent procedures in place to hopefully prevent anything like this ever happening again."