Woman jailed for stealing from an elderly widow

|News, Fraud and economic crime

A Liverpool woman who stole thousands of pounds from a 95-year-old widow that she had been looking after has been jailed for a year.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that Frances Fitzsimmons, 50, of Boaler Street in Kensington was a friend of Edna Ford’s and called in the mornings to make her a meal, help her take her medication and tidy up.

But the relationship started to go wrong when Mrs Ford went into Broadgreen Hospital in 2009. She gave Fitzsimmons a locked box for safekeeping, containing a chequebook and her bank debit card. She also told Fitzsimmons her PIN number.

Mrs Ford was in hospital for several weeks and, from then on, Fitzsimmons, kept hold of the card and chequebook, although she was never given permission to use them. Mrs Ford trusted Fitzsimmons with her financial affairs and also asked her to pay some utility bills as she had restricted mobility.

In March 2011, Fitzsimmons forged a letter to Mrs Ford’s bank, asking them to change the address of the account to her own and send all statements and cheque books to Boaler Street.

Mrs Ford knew nothing of this. Over the next year, Fitzsimmons fraudulently withdrew £8,313 from Mrs Ford’s account.

She then forged a mandate to the company that provided Mrs Ford’s late husband's pension, authorising the pension to be closed down and cashed in.

The pension was closed and a  lump sum of £12,040 was paid into Mrs Ford’s account, which Fitzsimmons now had control over. This then gave Fitzsimmons access to even more money.

Fitzsimmons set up catalogue accounts in Mrs Ford’s name and ordered a wide variety of things, including computer games, televisions and clothes, all paid for out of Mrs Ford’s account.

Mrs Ford’s utility bills and debts with catalogue companies mounted up. Bill payments began to be rejected by the bank as the account was now empty. Mrs Ford became concerned and asked Fitzsimmons to check the balance of her account.

The defendant told the victim that there was £16,000 in the account but Mrs Ford knew that couldn’t be true so went to the bank herself with her son. She discovered that the account had been emptied and also found out about the catalogue accounts.

The police were called in and Fitzsimmons was arrested in June 2014.

A handwritten note was found at the defendant’s home that contained a pre-prepared defence in case a complaint was made. In it she accused Mrs Ford’s family of stealing from her, claiming she always had permission to use Mrs Ford’s account.

When arrested and interviewed, she denied all of the allegations of theft, fraud and forgery. Her account of what happened changed several times during the investigation, delaying things further.

But, in a dramatic turn of events, at her trial on 4 December, after the jury had been sworn in, the defendant pleaded guilty to all seven counts. The jury duly returned guilty verdicts on all counts. She was sentenced the following day.

Helen Chambers, Senior Crown Prosecutor with Mersey Cheshire Crown Prosecution Service said: “This was a great result after a long investigation and a lot of work by the Crown Prosecution Service to bring this case to court.

“The victim in this case was very old and the CPS decided that it was inappropriate to put her through the normal process of giving evidence in court at the trial.

“The CPS and the courts recently introduced a system where vulnerable or intimidated witnesses can give their evidence and be cross examined on it away from the court room and before the trial begins.

“This is filmed and shown to the jury when proceedings begin. This was done to great effect in this case and the CPS would like to thank Mrs Ford and her family for their help with this.

“They have been through an awful lot at the hands of Frances Fitzsimmons. The abuse of her position of trust and friendship is truly appalling. It appears that she may have genuinely wanted to help Mrs Ford initially but then got further and further embroiled in dishonesty, theft and forgery.

“Now she is behind bars and her reputation is in tatters. A lesson to anyone who thinks they can take advantage of the vulnerable and get away with it. The CPS is here to make sure they can’t.”

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