A WOMAN who tried to fleece a frail pensioner out of more than £16,000 has walked free from court.

Sylvia Lee took advantage of the fact that 81-year-old Violet Hirst was almost blind to add a nought to the end of a cheque when she was asked to help write it out.

The 60-year-old then asked how long it would take to clear after paying it in to the bank account of her partner.

But suspicious staff behind the counter at the bank realised something was wrong and raised the alarm.

And Lee was brought before the court where a judge suspended a jail sentence after hearing that she was under stress at the time of the offence.

Nick Hawkins, prosecuting, told Swindon Crown Court that Lee's partner, a Mr Loverage, had tended to Mrs Hirst's garden for many years.

He said that every autumn he would spend days trimming hedges and tidying up the plot at the elderly lady's home in Wootton Bassett.

Last October, after completing 10 days' work along with two other workers, he presented her with his bill for £1,875.

"Because Mrs Hirst has trouble with her eyesight she asked for help writing out the cheque," Mr Hawkins said.

"Mr Loverage is illiterate but his partner, the defendant, was with him so she stepped in. She then clearly made out the cheque in figures and words for £18,750."

The cheque was then presented to Mr Loverage's bank and put into an almost dormant account.

Lee again filled out the paying in slip in the sum of £18,750 and signed it J Davis. She said she was paying it into her son's account.

However, staff at the branch of the HSBC in Swindon were suspicious as she did not seem old enough to be the account holder's mother and the amount being paid in was out of character for the account's history.

They alerted Mrs Hirst's home branch of Lloyds TSB in Wootton Bassett and couriered the cheque to them.

Staff there realised something was wrong as they had set up a special arrangement with the elderly lady because of her failing eyesight.

The police were called in and Lee was tracked down through Mr Loverage, who knew nothing of the scam.

Lee, of Old Court, Wootton Bassett, pleaded guilty to attempting to obtain a money transfer by deception.

Sue Evans, defending, said that her client committed the offence on the spur of the moment and was very remorseful for what she had done.

Lee, she said, was stressed and depressed. She had suffered three bereavements and her mobile home and been burgled, flooded and written off.

Suspending a 12 month jail term for two years Judge Tom Longbotham said "Mrs Hirst trusted you to write a cheque for £1,875 for payment for work by Mr Loverage. Instead you wrote, in a very clear hand, a cheque for £18,750.

"This is a very mean and dishonest act upon a vulnerable person. She trusted you and you, in an act of very serious deception, abused that trust, the trust of a lady in her 80s."

He said he could suspend the sentence because of the stress she was under at the time of the crime. He also ordered she pay £350 towards the costs of the case.