She was an award-winning manager at a high street bank - trusted with hundreds of thousands of pounds.

But a gambling addiction left pensioners with accounts drained of cash, her career in tatters and starting a jail sentence of more than two years.

Hove Crown Court was told how in just 19 months Cathy Otero blew £411,000 playing on-line poker She won £200,000 in that time but stole £259,000 to satisfy her craving for the card game.

In her desperation she even stole £43,000 from a sick friend who trusted her enough to let her handle her financial affairs.

The 57-year-old, who was a manager for the Alliance and Leicester's four branches in Brighton and Hove, pleaded guilty to 15 charges of stealing cash from 14 accounts.

At least three of the victims, including her friend Dora Young, 64, have died since the thefts were uncovered last year.

The money has since been repaid to them or their estates by the Alliance and Leicester.

Otero, of the Parks, Portslade, cashed in her £111,000 pension pot and raised another £2,500 from the sale of her £240,000 house after the mortgage had been repaid.

That money has been handed over to compensate the Alliance and Leicester for some of its losses.

Stephen Shay, prosecuting, said Otero used a “switchback” scam to hide some transfers from her victims' accounts.

He said: “She would sometimes cover her tracks by transferring money back into accounts she had previously stolen from.”

He added that many of the victims were elderly people who did not use their accounts very often.

She stole more than £57,000 from one couple over five months between 2006 and 2007.

Another victim had over £38,000 plundered from his account over 11 months.

Two more lost £25,924 and £20,850 in just one month in 2007.

The scale of her stealing came to light after an investigation into financial irregularities by another employee at the bank's branch in Western Road, Brighton, was launched.

Mr Shay said: “When she was interviewed she said that over 19 months she was stealing to fund her gambling addiction.

“Since June 2006 she spent £411,000 on on-line gambling, winning about £200,000.”

Rossano Scamardella, defending, said Otero's addiction was so bad she had almost become a recluse.

He said: “Her life consisted of going to work in the morning, coming home at night and spending into the early hours playing on-line poker, spending up to £4,000 in one night.”

Mr Scamardella added: “There is no evidence of a lavish lifestyle or a hint of luxury about her or her family at all.

“Up until then she was a woman who had behaved impeccably at work and was a trusted and valued employee.

“This episode in her life was a truly spectacular fall from grace.”

Judge Michael Lawson told Otero: “I have taken into account your personal circumstances and good character.

“I accept that in normal circumstances you were a decent and honest member of the community.

“However, I have to recognise that people who abuse positions of trust must go to prison.”

Detective Constable Simon Dunne, of Sussex Police, said: “Her life was destroyed by her gambling addiction and I have some sympathy for that.

“However, my job is to investigate serious crime and that is what she has committed.”

Otero was sentenced to 27-months for breaching the trust placed in her by stealing the cash.