£1 million fraud gang cheated 83-year-old war veteran

October 11, 2010 | by | 0 Comments

A member of a £1 million fraud gang which stole a frail widow’s life savings has squandered the lot – and has just £4.34p left, a court heard.

Former World War II RAF Wren Catherine Devas, 83, was cheated by ”vicious” con artists who posed as her carers for three years.

The gang – described as ”every family’s worst nightmare” – were jailed for a combined 16-and-a-half years after squandering the fortune on holidays and mortgage payments.

In a final insult to the mother-of-six, who has since died, the fraudsters told Cambridge Crown Court that they have spent all the money and have on £619 left between them.

Vile Beryl Benbow, 78, of Lidgate, Suffolk, who acted as the pensioner’s ‘secretary’, pocketed £48,534, said she has just £4.34p left in her bank account.

Carer Zandra Mackay, 62, of Cottenham, Cambs., withdrew £68,000 from the widow’s credit card, claims she has just £575 left.

Her son Marcus Mackay, 44, of Romford Essex, who forged Mrs Devas’ will and tried to sell her £450,000 flat, told the court he was completely penniless.

And Deborah Atkinson, 49, also of Lidgate, Suffolk, who stole £216,000 and spent £5,000 of it on haircuts, says she has just £40 left to return.

(Left to right: Beryl Benbow, Zandra MacKay, Deborah Atkinson, Marcus MacKay)

Judge Gareth Hawkesworth, branded their crime ”the most vicious, heartless and despicable frauds” at a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing on Friday.

He said: ”I make it plain so that the defendants can hear it that should any of you come into any further capital sums or assets the Crown is at liberty to pursue the balance.”

Michael Magee, prosecuting, added: ”Sums that are liquidated should go to the family.”

Frail Mrs Devas was suffering from dementia and partially paralysed after a series of strokes in 2005 and dependant on round the clock care when she died in 2006 aged 83.

A trial at Cambridge Crown Court earlier this year heard the gang befriended Mrs Devas and refused her family access, then plundered £502,000 from her savings.

They even forged her will and attempted to sell her £450,000 flat in Cambridge city centre.

Atkinson was sentenced to four and a half years in jail, Marcus Mackay to five years and Zandra Mackay, described as the driving force behind the fraud, to seven years.

Benbow, said to be the ‘money-launderer’ was given a 12 month jail term suspended for two years and two year supervision order and made to wear an electronic tag.

Judge Hawkesworth said: “Tragically she fell amongst thieves apparently without any morals, scruples, conscience or remorse.

“And what followed was one of the nastiest, vicious, heartless and despicable frauds this court has encountered.

“A fraud that gathered pace and ambition and persisted over a period of three years.”

The court heard Atkinson answered an advert to be Mrs Devas’ secretary in 2003 and soon began changing amounts on the cheques to boost her pay.

Mrs Devas had little or no short term memory and conned into signing cheque after cheque.

Zandra Mackay came on board a year later as a carer and used her bank cards to withdraw cash and pay off her mortgage and household bills.

She even flew her family for a holiday in New York using Mrs Devas’ Diners club card.

Her son Marcus was named as the main benefactor in her will and made attempts to buy her flat in Beaufort Place for just £150,000.

He spent cash conned from the widow to pay off his massive credit card bills, failed businesses and pay off an ex-wife.

Marcus also raided her flat after her death and stole a number of rare books including signed poems by TS Elliott and sold them at Bonham’s auctions.

Benbow received help in paying bills but largely acted as a money launderer, the court heard.

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