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Church leader stole pounds 24,000 from couple; Salvation Army captain spared jail by judge.

Byline: Dan Warburton

A FORMER Salvation Army captain escaped jail yesterday after she "robbed Peter to pay Paul" and plundered more than pounds 33,000 from the charity and a pensioner.

Heather Wallace, 52, was entrusted with the finances of Kathleen Maggs after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

But in a two-and-a-half year spending spree she wrote cheques, withdrew cash and used a debit card to take pounds 24,700 from Mrs Maggs' account.

During that time she repaid pounds 9,669 she had stolen from the Salvation Army in Somerset, and also paid off her son's debts and his rent. She also bought a fridge, specialist pounds 145 insoles for her shoes, made supermarket purchases, paid for dental treatment and cleared a pounds 969 tax bill.

The thefts stopped when Mrs Maggs died in August 2005, aged 84, but it took more than 18 months for the scandal to come to light when her husband died, aged 92.

Wallace, who now lives in Woodhorn Road, Ashington, Northumberland, was arrested at her home in January 2008.

Julian Howells, prosecuting at Bristol Crown Court, said: "She described it as robbing Peter to pay Paul.

"But she had stolen from Paul in the first place and it was not a case of simply repaying that money, there was a quantity that was taken for her own benefit and in response to pressure from her son."

Wallace arrived at court yesterday with a suitcase in preparation for being sent to prison after admitting four counts of theft between January 2003 and August 2005.

But Judge Carol Hagen handed her a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, as well as 250 hours' community service.

Passing sentence Judge Hagen said: "Mr and Mrs Maggs were both old and vulnerable. You were in a position of great trust and you took advantage of that.

"You are not in a position to repay any of the losses. But you had dedicated your life by virtue of the work you pursued to helping others.

"You have lost your good name and I have no doubt that is a huge blow. To send you to prison would serve little useful purpose."

Wallace, under her previous married name of Abbott, became a Salvation Army minister for Midsomer Norton, in Somerset, in 1998 and quickly rose to the rank of captain. It was then that she befriended Mr and Mrs Maggs.

In 2003, plans were made for Mr and Mrs Maggs to sell their house and move into a care home, in Bristol. A solicitor was appointed to look after Mr Maggs' financial affairs while Wallace was given power of attorney over Mrs Maggs.

In September 2003, the Maggs' home was sold for pounds 83,000 and the money went into Mrs Maggs' bank account.

Wallace, who is now estranged from her son, claims she was bullied and pressurised by him into paying off his spiralling debts.

Philip Warren, mitigating, said the pair had formed a difficult relationship since he was adopted at the age of six. "He grew into a dysfunctional adult and treated his mother atrociously, sponging off her, bullying her and demeaning her," he said.

"He blamed her for the death of her husband 12 years ago, but despite all that she feels a mother's loyalty and that drove her to commit these offences, to try and salvage him from the messes that he made of his life."

NIECE'S ANGER

AFTER yesterday's hearing, Mrs Maggs' niece Heather Davis, from Whitchurch, near Bristol, spoke of her anger that a prison sentence had not been passed.

She said: "I'm gutted that she didn't go to prison today. It just means that you can steal thousands of pounds from someone and get away with a slap on the wrist.

"I don't think she has lost much, she should have thought about that before she took the money.

"Aunt Kath and Uncle William would be very upset with what has happened, they trusted her and they thought a lot of her, as did my Aunt May who introduced Heather Wallace to them.

"They both worked hard all their lives just for her to come and take it away from them."

You have lost your good name and I have no doubt that is a huge blow

CAPTION(S):

DISHONEST Former Salvation Army captain Heather Wallace.; VICTIMS William and Kathleen Maggs.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 1, 2008
Words:730
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