A Co Donegal carer who stole €20,000 from an elderly woman with terminal cancer and then claimed she burned the cash has walked free from court.

Marjorie Gallagher went through the home of dying Bridget McLaughlin on four occasions and stole €5,000 bundles of cash which she had hidden in tins because she did not trust banks.

The 56-year-old HSE carer was finally caught when Mrs McLaughlin's family installed secret CCTV cameras in her home when they suspected money was going missing.

Gallagher, of Maghery, Dungloe, was witnessed taking the money and was later interviewed by gardai when she admitted her crimes.

When approached by gardaí, she had €5,000 stuffed down her trousers but claimed that on the three previous occasions, she had simply burned the stolen money.

She appeared today at Letterkenny Circuit Court where an outline of the case was given before Judge John Aylmer.

The court was told that Mrs McLaughlin initially wrongly suspected her family of taking her life savings.

However, when the cameras were put in place the real culprit was caught.

Gallagher had been a carer for Mrs McLaughlin for many years and had been taking the case even after the victim had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Just days before her death, 76-year-old Mrs McLaughlin wrote a harrowing victim impact statement in which she referred to Gallagher as "evil."

She wrote how her last days were left with her telling how she had been robbed by a woman she trusted in her home. 

She wrote: "It is not how I imagined I would spend my last precious time and to end my life on this earth feeling sad and betrayed and possibly even now while you are reading this, I will have passed away. 

"It's in God's hands but I want you to know of my disgust at Marjorie Gallagher and what she has done to our family. She has robbed us over and over again and lied to us over and over again. When I was so weak and so sick she went through my home and stole my life savings that Packie, my dear husband may he rest in peace and myself worked very hard for all our life.

"How despicable is this person, she turns my stomach and makes me sick.

"It frightens me to think of it and how evil, calculated and cunning she is and I worry she will just walk away free but I have great faith in God above and he will see justice for this crime against me and my family. 

"In all my years dealing with people, I think she is the most cunning and devious person I have ever encountered. Thank God we have stopped her from hurting anybody else in her lifetime. I would not trust her with man, woman or child. Marjorie is cold and calculated and she knew exactly what she was doing for many years creeping about through my home like a rat until she found my money. 

"Marjorie kept rooting through my home and personal items and robbed me over and over and it didn't cause her a thought. I no longer feel safe in my own home and I don't trust anyone anymore as a result of what Marjorie has done to me

"When I didn't know who was stealing from me that was soul-destroying. I had to question my son, do you know how hard that was, I even feel sick thinking of it, God love him too he was so strong and said we will get this sorted even in the midst of the heartbreak."

She revealed how the money which was stolen was due to be left to her children and grandchildren.

"I had left the money Marjorie stole from me in my will to my family to help them with their lives going into the future and to help my grandchildren through college but unfortunately Evelyn and the rest of my family will lose out now because of Marjorie.

"Marjorie Gallagher preyed on me while I was ill and weak, I hope she gets what's due to her. As I said maybe I have passed on since I wrote this but I will meet my maker knowing I have led a good life, an honest life surrounded by a loving family."

Members of Mrs McLaughlin's family, including some of her grandchildren, cried as her victim impact statement was read out in court.

The court was told that the family of Gallagher had come together and had gathered €20,000 which they wanted to offer the estate of the late Mrs McLaughlin.

Barrister for Gallagher, Mr Shane Costelloe, said his client had serious mental health issues from previous incidents in her life.

She was brought up with a violent father and there was also another serious incident in her teenage years which he could not go into but which were in her medical reports.

She showed no trappings of wealth and the fact that she burned the money she stole was a reflection of these mental health issues. 

Passing sentence, Judge John Aylmer said that the theft of €20,000 from an ill lady in the care of the accused must be viewed as a very serious offence.

He said such offences merited a prison sentence of five years on each charge.

However, because of Gallagher's mental health issues and the fact that she admitted her crimes, had shown remorse and had no previous convictions then he would reduce this to three-and-a-half years.

However, he added that in exceptional circumstances, the totality of any prison sentence can be suspended and this is what he was proposing to do on counts two, three and four against Gallagher.

He ordered her to remain under the care of the Probation Services for the next 18 months.

On count one he sentenced her to carry out 240 hours community service.