Tipperary court: wheelchair amputee's disability payment stolen while she was in hospital

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Tipperary court: wheelchair amputee's disability payment stolen while she was in hospital

Judge Elizabeth MacGrath

A Nenagh woman has been convicted at the local court of stealing money from a former heroin addict who is confined to a wheelchair after she lost her leg to a medical condition.

Alison Stone, 31, with an address at Apt 2, 33a Sarsfield Street, Nenagh, had pleaded not guilty to stealing €658 from Leanne Conlon by collecting her dole money at Nenagh Post Office on November 2, 2016.

She was also convicted of forging Ms Conlon's signature on a social welfare claim form on November 3, 2016.

Joseph Shanahan, with addresses at 33a Sarsfield Street, Nenagh and 77 Silver Street, Nenagh, pleaded to the theft of €197, at Nenagh Post Office on October 3, 2016, and September 23, 2016. He also pleaded to the theft of €219.50 on October 10, 2016.

Mr Shanahan also pleaded to possession of heroin valued at €5 at Silver Street on April 27, 2017.

Ms Conlon told the court that she had lost the lower part of her leg due to vascular disease and not because of her former addiction problems.

She had been admitted to University Hospital Limerick on August 25 and when she went by taxi to collect her disability payment in October 2016, she was told that her payments for September and October and had been collected.

“I gave no authority to anybody to collect my money,” she said.

Ms Conlon said that her old claim card had been lost in January 2016 when her handbag went missing.

However, she did say that on a number of occasions she gave permission to Ms Stone to collect her payments.

Det Garda Stuart Beattie met her in hospital last December where he showed her temporary agent collection forms but she said that the signature on them was not hers.

“I gave no authority to Alison Stone to collect payments. I have not spoken to her since August 25, 2016,” she said.

Ms Conlon told solicitor Elizabeth McKeever, for Ms Stone, that she had come to Nenagh about five years ago and had been in a relationship with Joseph Shanahan on and off for about three years. Ms Conlon, Mr Shanahan, Ms Stone and her partner were all living in the same premises.

“Ms Stone was my best friend,” she said.

Ms Conlon denied she had drug debts and had asked Ms Stone to collect her money because the drug dealers had threatened to go to her family.

“Any debt I had, I paid,” she said. “I am off heroin for the past 18 months. I am not on Methadone.”

She said she had not asked Joseph Shanahan to collect her money, but agreed he had done so on one occasion.

Garda Beattie told the court he had requested documentation from Nenagh Post Office, including CCTV coverage and receipts.

He subsequently called to Ms Stone's apartment and she handed him Ms Conlon's social welfare card.

Ms Stone was later arrested and during questioning told the Gardai: “I broke my back looking after her. I took her in when she had nowhere else to go.”

Her interview was read in court by Garda Beattie and in it she said she had been authorised to collect Ms Conlon's money on a number of occasions .

“I have done nothing wrong. I have nothing to hide,” she said during interview.

Ms Stone claimed Ms Conlon had phoned her and asked her to collect the money because Ms Conlon wanted to pay a drugs debt.

She paid €550 to a drugs dealer and gave the balance to Ms Conlon at University Hospital Limerick.

Ms Stone believed Ms Conlon made her complaint to the Gardai because she wanted to “scam Dublin” and get the money back for Christmas.

She said she told Ms Conlon she would have to sign her name on the claims form and Ms Conlon told her she had no problem with that.

“I shouldn't have signed. I did it for her. I'm not denying picking up her payment. I signed the authorisation card because she asked me to. She is after making a fool of me,” Ms Stone said in the Garda interview.

In her direct evidence to the court, Ms Stone again said she did not deny collecting the money.

“I got a call from her to say there was a debt owed and they had threatened to go to her family. She asked me to collect the money as a friend. I am very loyal to my friends and family,” said Ms Stone.

She said Ms Conlon had told her she would not get into trouble for signing her name on the authorisation form.

Convicting, Judge Elizabeth MacGrath said that there may have been a loose arrangement at one stage about collecting payments but Ms Conlon was adament she had not given her consent this time.

Judge MacGrath adjourned the case against Ms Stone to October 26 for an updated probation report and a victim personal statement.

In relation to Mr Shanahan, the court heard he was 28 years old and had 29 previous convictions.

Ms McKeever said he had a difficult upbringing and developed a serious drug problem.

“He has been making great strides but has fallen back,” said Ms McKeever, who told the court Mr Shanahan suffered from Lupus.

Judge MacGrath adjourned the case to October 26 for a probation report and warned Mr Shanahan to co-operate or he would not get the benefit of what the report might contain.