A 24-year-old woman who stole the life savings of an elderly woman she befriended in Co Donegal has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail with the final two years suspended.

Letterkenny Circuit Court heard that Alicia Shaw, with an address at Kingscourt in Co Cavan, befriended Bríd Murphy and was given her bank card to do some shopping for her.

However the court was told that Shaw regularly withdrew up to €700 a day using the woman's card.  

The 82-year-old pensioner from Buncrana in Co Donegal had almost €27,000, her entire life savings, taken from her when the money was gradually withdrawn from her Bank of Ireland account in the town. 

When the pensioner received her six-monthly bank statement she became aware that a huge sum of money was missing from her account and notified the gardaí who, in the course of their investigation, downloaded CCTV footage from the bank from February and March 2015. 

A woman in her 20s was observed withdrawing money on a regular basis at times that matched the withdrawals of Ms Murphy's money.

Garda Caroline Whelan lived on the same housing estate as the accused and noticed that she was friendly with the victim and she was arrested on suspicion of the thefts. 

Shaw, a mother of three young children pleaded guilty to nine sample charges out of 57 counts of theft.

Judge John Aylmer described the thefts as systematic offences against a vulnerable and elderly lady and said the effect on her and her family was quite devastating. 

In terms of mitigating factors, Judge Aylmer said Shaw was 21 at the time and was now clearly remorseful.

He said she came from a very deprived background and had dyslexia, ADHD and a borderline personality disorder. She was the mother of three children aged four, two and 18 months and had split from her partner, the father of the children. 

The judge said he had to consider the protection of the elderly and vulnerable but also consider the impact a custodial sentence would have not just on Shaw, who had no previous convictions, but also on her children.

"I'm doing my best to balance that," he said, "and am suspending the final two years of the three-and-a-half year sentence." 

A relative of the victim in this case, who did not want to be identified, said she thanks the judge and hoped the sentence would be a deterrent to others. 

Shaw initially denied the thefts and said she was using her own card.

She then claimed that her friend gave her the card and asked her to withdraw the sums of cash but did not know the card was stolen.

However, she later admitted her part in the deception.

Ms Murphy's daughter, Ruth Jackson, spoke on her mother's behalf and told of the devastation the theft had brought to her mother and their entire family.

She told the court how her mother is still of sound mind but that she could not face coming to court because her pride kept her away.

Ms Murphy worked in the ESB and was then an office manager in a legal firm after her husband, Frankie, died aged just 51.

Her daughter fought back tears as she told how her mother fought through disabilities to ensure all her children were given a third-level education.

However, since her account and her life savings were taken, Ms Murphy no longer trusts anyone, according to her daughter.

She referred to one occasion when just €4.04 was left in her mother's account because the thief had taken the €250 of her old age pension money which had just been lodged.

Ms Murphy now locks all the doors in her home, has become a virtual recluse despite previously always being out in the town and even takes her handbag to the toilet with her.

Ms Jackson added: "She lives with suspicion of everyone including her whole family which is a tragedy."

She also added how Bank of Ireland had refused to reimburse her mother for the money which was stolen from her account.

Barrister for the accused, Ms Catherine Taffe, outlined Shaw's upbringing and how her mother and father split up when she was young and her mother had brought her children to live in Donegal from Glasgow.

She went back to Glasgow to try to reunite with her father but that did not end well.

She became dependent on alcohol and also suffers from ADHD, a personality disorder and dyslexia.

"Nothing we can say will minimise the impact this has had on the elderly victim and her family," Ms Taffe said.

She said her client, who wants to train to become a nurse, was hugely upset and the tears she cried in the courtroom were not "crocodile tears."

Judge John Aylmer said he wanted time to consider the reports and adjourned the sentencing until next Friday.