St Albans carers jailed for ‘milking’ pensioner

Kerri Davies

Kerri Davies - Credit: Archant

The actions of a St Albans law firm have helped to put two women who “milked” a vulnerable pensioner out of around £750,000 behind bars.

Celia Brinkley

Celia Brinkley - Credit: Archant

Celia Brinkley, 45, and Kerri Davies, 40, were sentenced to a total of nine years and three months in prison at St Albans Crown Court on Friday for taking a large sum of Anthony Hornett’s life savings.

The court heard how suspicions were first raised when Mr Hornett, who has since died but at the time was in his late 70s, contacted his solicitor at Debenhams Ottaway and asked to change his will.

He had no family and intended to leave everything he owned to charity, so alarm bells began to ring when he requested that part of his multi-million pound estate should be willed to his full-time carers, Brinkley and Davies.

The former lovers, both of Dellfield, were working at St Albans City Hospital when they met Mr Hornett in 2009 after responding to an advert to rent one of his properties.

They came to an agreement they would pay him a reduced rate of rent and in return would clean the run-down house.

He said he would provide them with electrical appliances, but within a few months they had asked for £40,000 and “Mr Hornett being very lonely gave them what they wanted”, said prosecutor Laura Blackband.

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By June 2010 they had obtained £170,000 worth of cheques from him and were “splashing the cash”. They would tell colleagues at the hospital they had won £250,000 on the lottery.

It was when Mr Hornett fell off his garage roof and went into hospital that the pair resigned from their jobs to care for him full-time at his home in York Road.

During this period Brinkley had access to his credit cards and cheque books and forged eight cheques totalling more than £200,000.

The court was also told before the accident she had got him drunk and encouraged him to write to his solicitor to request they inherit the house they were renting.

Ms Blackband said Brinkley had taken him to get his will changed but Mr Hornett’s solicitor was “very switched on”, and suspected her client was being put under pressure so did not alter it.

Unbeknown to their employer, Brinkley and Davies then obtained planning permission to have a £200,000 extension built on the home they believed they would eventually own.

A policeman, who often visited Mr Hornett, spotted the building work and aired concerns, which led to an investigation and their arrest in July 2011.

Defending Brinkley, Terence Woods said she had admitted to two counts of fraud, nine of forgery and one of converting criminal property.

He also said Mr Hornett had given her his cheque book and credit card to use but she accepted she took advantage of his generosity. She benefited from around £737,000, which included two expensive cars and a scooter.

Defence barrister Gideon Cammerman also asked the judge to consider Davies’ guilty plea for one offence of converting criminal property. In total she obtained around £80,000.

Judge Andrew Bright said this was “greed on a frightening scale” and the pair targeted Mr Hornett in a way that was “relentless, merciless and truly wicked”.

He acknowledged Brinkley’s leading role and sentenced her to seven years in prison, and sent Davies down for 27 months.

After the hearing Janet Harvey, senior associate solicitor at Debenhams Ottaway, said it was the worst case of financial abuse the firm had ever seen, and they were pleased that justice had been served.

She added: “We are conscious of our role looking after our clients and trying to act in their best interests at all times.

“We are very long established in St Albans and our local knowledge helps us to identify circumstances such as this and to know immediately who to work with to resolve the problem , particularly in a case like this.

“Our clients, including the victim in this case who was a vulnerable, elderly man, come to us because they trust us. We take that very seriously and look out for them.”