Caregiver who swindled 94-year-old named

Melanie Jane Hedley was sentenced to a year on home detention. Photo: ODT
Melanie Jane Hedley was sentenced to a year on home detention. Photo: ODT
A Dunedin woman who swindled a 94-year-old woman out of more than  $23,000 has avoided imprisonment “by the finest of margins”.

Name suppression lapsed this afternoon for 43-year-old Melanie Jane Hedley when she was sentenced to a year on home detention – the maximum non-custodial sentence - before the Dunedin District Court.

Her identity had been kept under wraps to enable her to sell her home to service the debt and extended when one of her children had a school exam.

The mother of two claimed to be remorseful for the year-long pattern of fraud as she positioned herself as the victim’s informal caregiver.

But Hedley, who pleaded guilty to two counts of using a document for a pecuniary advantage, would not disclose how she spent nearly $20,000 in ATM withdrawals.

She described the repeat thefts as “messy and opportunistic” but Judge Michael Turner rubbished that characterisation.

“This was premeditated and sustained offending for your own greed,” he said.

“You say there was no financial greed but there has been no explanation offered about how the money was spent.”

Hedley was assessed by Probation as being at low risk of reoffending.

The judge scoffed at that, pointing to a conviction in 2015 the defendant had received for stealing $40 from the bag of a 97-year-old while working as a carer.

“[It] indicates a propensity on your part to take advantage of elderly and vulnerable people,” he said. 

The victim met Hedley in 2009 when she lived alone and had required home help after undergoing surgery.

After the defendant’s paid employment ceased she continued as an informal caregiver.

The victim managed her own finances until the middle of 2014 when she ended up in hospital following a fall.

After three months in respite care, she returned home. 

Hedley took on tasks such as “grocery shopping, mail, paying invoices, tidying her bank statements and bills, and gardening”, court documents said.

By May 2016, she had total control of the victim’s finances. 

While doing the woman’s shopping, the defendant would splash out on products for herself too.

Over seven months she racked up a bill of $3443 on groceries, household goods, clothing, skin-care products and furniture, which she organised to be delivered to her home.

Hedley even swiped her own loyalty card to collect points for the transactions, the court heard.

The bulk of the fraud though came from cash withdrawals. 

By May 2017, she had stolen $19,600 through ATMs.

Even at a restorative-justice conference with the victim’s niece, Hedley would not answer questions about how the cash was spent.  

Defence counsel Andrew Dawson said it was certainly not used to fund “an extravagant lifestyle”

The offending was eventually discovered when a power bill went unpaid and the victim’s family became involved.

Over 44 fraudulent transactions, Hedley got away with $23,044.

Crown prosecutor Catherine Ure said it had caused the elderly victim “significant personal distress”, who was saving money to support others.

Mr Dawson, while accepting his client was at fault, said she too had suffered.

She had effectively seen her life “burn to the ground” since being found out, he said.

Hedley’s marriage had ended, she had sold her home to repay the victim in full and was now unemployed.

A family spokesperson for the victim described the case as “tragic for everybody” and hoped the defendant turned her life around for the good of her family.