Published: 13:00, 01 June 2017
A conman befriended a vulnerable pensioner before fleecing her out of more than £100,000.
Anthony Powell, 73, forged the signature of 90-year-old Hester Herby, of Hempstead, on three cheques and even stole the money from her life insurance policy.
Powell, of Harrow Road in Gillingham, has now been jailed for two years and three months, after changing his plea to guilty just two weeks before his trial.
Maidstone Crown Court heard how Powell had met his victim when they visited their local pub in 2014.
Prosecuting, Edward Connell said: “Hester Herby was living an active life.
“Her brother-in-law William Herby would help her with a number of errands but she was mainly living independently.
“She met the defendant and they struck up a friendship.
“After a while, the amount of contact between Hester and her family lessened and the defendant took over a lot of the jobs.”
During this time, Mrs Herby’s health weakened.
In 2015, Mrs Herby was hospitalised and when William Herby visited, he was told that Powell had claimed to be the next-of-kin.
Mr Connell added: “William asked to become the power of attorney and this was agreed.
“He was looking at Hester’s finances and realised that a substantial amount of money was missing. Alarm bells started to ring.”
"You breached the trust she had put in you, her trust in your friendship. You stole her money even though she was vulnerable" - Judge Philip St John-Stevens
When William contacted the bank, it was discovered that three cheques had been made out to Powell – one in September 2014 for £38,000, one in January 2015 for £35,850 and another later in 2015 for £30,000.
Part of this money had come from a life insurance policy
A letter had been written to the insurance company in 2014, asking for the policy to be suspended.
Mr Connell continued: “When the request was first made, there was a discrepancy with the signature so another letter had to be sent with evidence and eventually the money was released.
“A handwriting expert assessed the letter during the police investigation and the expert supported that the signature on the letter had been written by someone other than Hester Herby.”
Powell claimed that Hester Herby had agreed to write out the cheques and wanted to repay him for the care he had given her over the last few years.
His defence barrister Danny Moore said that Powell had never entered into the friendship with the intent to steal from Hester Herby.
He said: “Questions have been asked whether this was a planned fraud from the outset but it has always been the defendant’s case that it was not a friendship based on potential gain.”
Mr Moore said that the judge should consider his ill health and said the fact the money had been repaid already was “particularly exceptional”.
He suggested a suspended sentence.
Judge Philip St John-Stevens said: “I accept that you befriended Hester Herby and at the time, when she was in her late 80s, you took an opportunity because of her failing health to steal that sum of money.
“I accept that this was not your reason for befriending her but you took that opportunity.
“There was a degree of planning, demonstrated by the fact that you caused the insurance to be surrendered.
“Within a month or two, you withdrew that money from her account and forged her signature.
“You breached the trust she had put in you, her trust in your friendship.
“You stole her money even though she was vulnerable. Perhaps not from the outset, but it is clear she was targeted.”
Powell will serve half his sentence in custody and half on licence.