A former care home manager will be eating Christmas dinner in prison this year after cheating elderly residents out of nearly £14,000.

Cocaine addict Robert Hale, 37, of Salisbury Court, Enfield, pleaded guilty to 11 charges of obtaining money by deception and one of theft, with a further 68 offences also taken into account.

On Monday Harrow Crown Court heard how Hale, who ran the Almenar Residential Home in Ravenscroft Park, Barnet, for eight years, stole residents' pensions continuing even after two had died.

Andrew Evans, prosecuting, told the court that Hale had collected weekly benefits on behalf of a number of his 30 pensioners.

After he ran up rent arrears of £40,000, the home was closed in August last year and its residents transferred elsewhere.

But Hale, who also faced an unpaid Inland Revenue bill for £600,000 and was hooked on cocaine, continued to collect pensions for two months until his arrest.

"What he appears to have done was to retain control over the residents' pension books after they had been relocated and, in some cases, after they had actually died," said Mr Evans.

For the defence, Lesley Jones told the court Hale had been depressed and under duress at the time.

"These offences were not committed in a callous or cynical way but were born out of desperation."

Hale, who had no formal training, had taken cocaine to enhance his performance under pressure and regretted his actions, she added.

Sentencing Hale to two years in prison, Judge Barrington Black said: "People who reside in homes like this are deserving of a considerable degree of care and attention and deserve to trust those looking after them you broke that trust."

PC Andy Leadbetter, of Colindale CID, said: "This man abused a position of trust by preying on the elderly and vulnerable. It has been a very time-consuming operation and we're extremely satisfied with the result."