A GAMBLING addict who stole more than £4,000 off her dying father has narrowly avoided an immediate prison sentence.

Preston Crown Court heard how Deborah Gray, of Leadale Road, Leyland, began stealing off her father 77-year-old father John Hickey after he had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

The court was told how Mr Hickey had suffered a stroke in August 2015 and his situation became worse in September, last year, when he was diagnosed with asbestosis. At that point Gray and her brother Graham Hickey started to care for him.

At the time 47-year-old Gray was working in the taxi industry and had become addicted to gambling on her mobile phone.

The court heard that to help fund the habit she initially stole £2,150 cash her father had stashed away in his house. She later got access Mr Hickey's bank card and used it to withdraw £2,000 in one week, sometimes making several withdrawals in a day.

In a harrowing victim impact statement Graham Hickey said his father was left heartbroken by Gray's offending and never recovered from it - dying seven months after being given a life-expectancy diagnosis of 18 months.

He added: "Dad just stopped trusting people which caused him to become isolated.

"He died heartbroken."

Gray pleaded guilty to two counts of theft.

Recorder Mark Ainsworth sentenced her to two years imprisonment, suspended for two years. She must also undertake 200 of unpaid work, complete a ten-day rehabilitation activity requirement and pay £4,150 compensation to her father's estate at a rate of £150. A three-month curfew was imposed banning her from leaving her home address between 9.30pm and 5am.

Mr Recorder Ainsworth said: "During his final seven months your father had to contend with a great deal in his life. Many of his problems were exacerbated by your criminal conduct.

"When he was diagnosed with cancer you and your brother Graham volunteered to assist with his care. It's the kind of act undertaken by older children to ensure their parent end their life with dignity, respect and comfort. But your conduct was quite different because while you were caring for your father you took the opportunity that presented itself to you to steal his money. It is difficult to think of a greater breach of trust.

"You caused a great deal of distress and anguish."