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Gloucestershire Business News

Forest of Dean woman stole £13,000 from her elderly step-grandmother

A 46-year-old Forest of Dean woman who fleeced her elderly step-grandmother out of £13,000 by using her bank account to make more than 700 purchases on eBay has walked free from court.

Sharon Cecil of The Hawthorns, Lydney, was sentenced at Gloucester Crown Court on Wednesday (April 26) to a 15-months community order and was told to repay half the money she stole.

The court was told that Cecil's gran, pensioner Eileen Brown, who is in her late eighties, had only £9 left in her bank account when the offences came to light because an £800 meals on wheels bill was due.

A subsequent police investigation revealed that Cecil had swindled her elderly relative, aged between 87 and 90 at the time of the offences, out of £13,259.18 over a period of two-years and eight months.

During the pandemic Mrs Brown went to stay with Cecil and her family so that she could be cared for by her step granddaughter as her dementia was getting worse. Cecil would provide her ongoing care and ensure that she attended her medical appointments, the court heard.

Prosecutor Nicholas Lee explained that the offences were exposed when another step granddaughter, Claire Gurney regained contact with Mrs Brown in January 2022. She visited Mrs Brown, who had by then returned to her own home, to check on her.

Mr Lee said: "While Ms Gurney was cleaning up, Cecil also arrived, and Ms Gurney asked her where all the bank statements were? Cecil said she did not know.

"Ms Gurney then went into the local bank branch and got a mini statement. She was extremely surprised that Mrs Brown only had £9 left in her account. The bank staff told Ms Gurney that the statements were being sent to Cecil's home address.

"The bank staff also stated that hundreds of small on-line transactions had been made on the account and suggested that this activity should be reported to the police."

The police investigated the fraudulent activity and found in excess of 700 eBay purchases that had been made on Mrs Brown's account which totalled £13,259.18.

Ms Gurney told the police that Mrs Brown was not computer literate and did not own a mobile phone so she could not have made these purchases.

The court was told that most of the items purchased from eBay were less than £20 in value and included clothes, handbags, toys, trinkets and ornaments.

Judge Rupert Lowe observed: "That is effectively one purchase a day for the whole of that time period."

Brown denied any knowledge of what had happened to Mrs Brown's bank card in her police interview and any payments made on it. She explained that the redirection of her step grandmother's bank statements had been made while she was living with her and had never been corrected when she moved back home.

Ms Gurney told the court in a statement, on behalf of the rest of the family: "Eileen (Nan) would not have been aware that Cecil was using her bank account and making purchase on an online market place. She was suffering from dementia.

"She would have been devastated to know that the woman caring for her, was also fleecing her account. Nan was never a wealthy woman, but she had enough money to get by. She had been able to treat herself to an occasional coach holiday and purchase new clothes when required.

"However, when she became poorly, she needed to dip into her savings to pay for her support and this included the home delivery of her meals. This was when we discovered that an invoice for £800 had not been paid.

"The whole situation has left me feeling angry and sad that my beloved grandmother was left in her home without sufficient care and that the person providing her care was not fulfilling her duty, and was stealing a huge amount of money from her, for her own benefit.

"I am somewhat glad that Eileen was never aware of what was going on around her."

Mr Lee concluded: "The victim was vulnerable and Cecil she took advantage of her position and this was effectively an abuse of trust. The theft was conducted over a significant period of time and she took steps to control the situation by having Mrs Brown's bank statements to her home address."

Cecil, who was not legally represented, claiming she was not entitled to legal aid, told Judge Rupert Lowe that she couldn't afford legal representation.

Judge Lowe quizzed Cecil and asked: "Where are all the 700 items you've purchased using Mrs Brown's money? Do you have any savings?"

Cecil responded: "I don't know where the items are. I presume they are at home. I've never been shown what I bought. Without looking I don't know what I purchased."

The judge said in surprise: "You don't know where they are? You chose them on eBay, you bought them and you say you don't know what they were. All those clothes, the trinkets, the handbags and whatnot? What are you going to do with them?

Cecil said: "I don't know. I could sell them and give the money back," to which the judge asked: "Have you made any arrangements to sell them to give the money back?

Cecil responded, "No, not yet. I've had other things on my mind as a family member has been in hospital and has since passed away. I had to deal with numerous hospital appointments."

Cecil told the court she had a small amount of savings and was on benefits. Out of her money she paid for her dog's upkeep and medical bills.

Judge Lowe said: "I feel you may have new priorities to deal with."

Cecil told the judge: "I'm really sorry for what I've done. I wish I could change things. I did look after my Nan by taking her to all her appointments. I don't believe I am a beneficiary of her will."

Cecil pleaded guilty to theft of £13,259.18 from Eileen Brown's bank account between May 1, 2019 and January 31, 2022.

Judge Lowe told Cecil: "I accept that you were involved in a road traffic accident in 1998 in which you were seriously injured and left you partially disabled.

"That however, is no excuse for your disgraceful behaviour against your own step grandmother, someone who you regarded as your Nan.

"You took on a major role of looking after her between May of 2019 and January of 2022 which only came to an end when your cousin discovered that you had all along been stealing from her by using her debit card to buy stuff from eBay.

"It obviously occurred to you that your Nan was suffering badly from advancing dementia would never know if you used her card to make purchases.

"You then got a taste for it. These were not on the whole, very expensive items, most were less than £20 each. This works out at about one purchase a day over the 32 months using somebody else's money.

"When you cousin came to see Mrs Brown and asked about where the bank paperwork was, you lied about this and stated you didn't know. You did know because you had the statements diverted to your home address.

"You have suggested you are innocent because your grandmother was staying with you during lockdown. If you were innocent, you would have told the truth. You knew what you were doing.

"Since you've been court, you have been trying to justify your actions to others, and yourself. The truth is you were just a thief. You lied at the start, and I have not seen any real evidence of remorse from you today.

"This offence was in my view, a breach of trust. There is no evidence that you were not looking after her. But you were stealing from her at the same time.

"I should be sentencing you to an eight-month prison term. The big question is whether this should be immediate, or not. However I am not sending you to prison because the risk of reoffending is low and the sentence would have been short and interfere with you paying back the money to Mrs Brown's estate.

"You should have already started doing that, but the fact you have not made any efforts to resell the items and give back the funds shows that you are not very remorseful.

"If you had been remorseful you would have already done that. Instead of which you tell me about your own problems.

"I would like to make a compensation order for you to pay the full amount and interest. However, I have to be realistic and find a sum that can be paid back within a year.

"I have significant doubts that you only have £200 in savings. You are now in possession of a lot of items that can be sold, and they should be sold."

The judge made a compensation order for £6,600 and told Cecil it must be paid within a year. Judge Lowe warned Cecil that if she didn't pay the full amount, she would be brought back to the magistrates' court for non-payment and sent to prison.

"Your grandmother's estate should get some money, even if it's not the full amount," the judge concluded.

The judge sentenced Cecil to a 15-month community order and ordered her to attend 20 rehabilitation activity requirement days.

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