I am bound to say it is not often that I have turned to the First Epistle of the Blessed Apostle Paul to Timothy! However, one of our best-known quotes “The love of money is the root of all evil” is a sentence from that particular Epistle.
ALWAYS WANTING MORE
Sitting where I do as a solicitor, I see time and again that this adage is what motivates so many people. Many are totally dissatisfied with their lot in life, no matter how much money they have got. They always want more, and many are prepared to take whatever steps are necessary to swell their money bags.
I do not know what it is in human nature which flicks on this particular switch. I have seen so often seemingly lovely people suddenly change completely when money rears its ugly head.
It may be someone with no interest in family for many years suddenly wanting to claim an interest in someone’s estate. It may be someone who has squandered piles of money suddenly claiming to be a dependant of a deceased relative and therefore entitled (so they think) to challenge a Will where they have been omitted as a beneficiary. Or it may be someone with the mildest of symptoms after slipping in a supermarket wanting to claim thousands. For so long as there is a pot to raid – be it the coffers of an insurance company or the estate of a recently deceased family member – raiders will always abound.
FAKE HOLIDAY ILLNESS CLAIMS
We have seen, for example, thousands of Brits making fake claims for holiday illness. Between 2013 and 2016 there was a 500 per cent increase in gastric sickness claims. It got so bad that numerous hotel owners gave stark warnings they would withdraw holiday deals from the UK market. In 2016 alone hotels in Mallorca paid out £42 million for such claims.
But the holiday companies and hotels have hit back. One counter-fraud operator now estimates that of 2,500 claims handled by his firm, his travel company clients paid out on only 60 valid claims. Last year a couple from Merseyside were jailed for making fraudulent sickness claims relating to holidays they took in Mallorca in 2015 and 2016. Fraudulent claimers have been warned.
CASH FOR CRASH
Another great scam has been the cash for crash fraudsters. These involve deliberate accidents where all the parties involved have been in on the scam. Garages have been known to be in on the staged incidents, and it is now all starting to unravel. The Insurance Fraud Bureau announced a few days ago the conclusion to the latest series of trials which it had instigated. As a consequence of those trials, 77 fraudsters either pleaded guilty or were found guilty of cash for crash scams. Again, people have been warned.
On a more local basis, you may have seen that a jail sentence was handed out in Truro Crown Court in May for a Boscastle man who forged his late uncle’s Will. The man in question was William “Hedley” Venning from Boscastle. The case related to the death of his uncle Peter Ascott, who died in 2012. In 2010 Mr Ascott wrote his last Will in the presence of his solicitor of many years’ standing. In that Will he left the bulk of his estate to the charity Christian Aid.
NEW WILL APPEARS
It then transpired that the day after Mr Ascott died Venning came forward with another Will. He claimed this was signed by Mr Ascott two months earlier, and in this new Will he left the bulk of his estate to Venning himself. All reference to Christian Aid was removed, and legacies which Mr Ascott had left to other family members including Venning’s own two children were significantly reduced. Local churches who were in the original Will also had their legacies cut or significantly reduced.
This new Will was a forgery. Mr Ascott’s signature was forged, and two chums of Venning fraudulently claimed they had witnessed the signing of the Will by Mr Ascott. Venning obviously thought he had got away with it, especially as he had two willing collaborators prepared to state they had been present when Mr Ascott signed the new Will.
Not surprisingly Christian Aid challenged the authenticity of this new Will. They got statements and other evidence from a number of the beneficiaries of the true Will. In a High Court case the two “witnesses” to the forged Will swore Affidavits swearing that they were present when Mr Ascott signed the Will. Venning still felt he was onto a winner and had got away with it.
In 2016 Christian Aid and Venning came to terms. Under the agreement Venning paid a sum to Christian Aid (the amount of which was undisclosed) and the charity in turn removed a caveat it had placed on the forged Will.
POLICE CALLED IN
But it didn’t stop there. The forged Will was submitted to the Probate Registry. Venning obtained a Grant of Representation for himself, and he took the benefit and paid out to the beneficiaries of the true Last Will and Testament a much reduced sum. The police were called in and criminal proceedings then followed. The prosecution produced expert forensic evidence which showed conclusively that the 2012 Will was a forgery.
THREE WEEK TRIAL
Venning and his co-conspirators pleaded not guilty, and there followed a three week trial. He was still cocky enough to think that a Cornish jury might find a Cornishman not guilty. The jury were far from impressed with their defence and gave a unanimous guilty verdict. Venning was given a 5½ year sentence whilst the two “witnesses” received 2 year sentences suspended for 2 years. They were also required to undertake substantial unpaid work sentences, and also had fines to pay. They will have plenty of time to reflect on St Paul’s cautionary advice about money!
I can foresee potential rises in dubious Wills. A Court in Australia last year admitted as a valid Will an e-mail sent by a dying man stating where he wanted his money to go. I expect the Court carried out a rigorous forensic enquiry into the background of the e-mail and its sender. Given, however, the ever present efforts fraudsters make to take over our e-mails without us even knowing, the admittance of electronic Will making could turn into a fraudsters’ paradise.
Nothing surprises me when it comes to what some people will do to lay their hands on money to which they are not entitled. When used in a good way (as Mr Ascott clearly tried to do) it can do tremendous good. But when it becomes the root of all evil, little if any good can come of it.
If you need advice on legal matters then please get in touch. If you haven’t got a Will, now is the time to act. Ask yourself the question “If I died last night, is my Will correct?” If you are in a relationship outside of marriage, no Will means no protection for your partner. So take action now, and ask for our help. It will bring great peace of mind and certainty for the future. Contact us here at Busbys on 01288 35 9000 and see Busbys’ advert on this page.
Bude & Holsworthy