Telford charity fraud drug addict is jailed

A Telford woman who stole from a vulnerable pensioner she befriended, and who scammed other elderly people with fake sponsorship stories to fund a drug habit, has been jailed.

Fraudster Theresa Willett was locked up for 18 months
Fraudster Theresa Willett was locked up for 18 months

Theresa Willett, 36, pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud and one of theft which relate to offences that took place throughout 2017 at the victims' homes across Telford.

Willett, of Botany Bay Close, was sentenced to 18 months in jail for defrauding three elderly people, and for stealing money and jewellery from a fourth after gaining her trust.

Shrewsbury Crown Court heard that Willett befriended Margaret Hames - who was 94 when they met and who has since died.

Kevin Jones, prosecuting, told the court that in the spring of last year members of Ms Hames’ family noticed flowers and thank you cards at her sheltered accommodation, and when questioned Ms Hames couldn’t or wouldn’t say who had given them.

Mr Jones said: “Ms Hames’ memory was deteriorating by this point and she was unable to help the family understand what was happening.

“They then noticed that items were missing from a jewellery box that had been moved, including a ring and a bracelet. Loose cash that had been lying around had also gone missing, to the value of about £250.

“The family then spoke to neighbours, who had noticed a lady with a child would visit Ms Hames regularly.”

The woman, since identified by family members as Theresa Willett, had gained the trust of the elderly resident and would give her small gifts, the court heard.

She would then use the opportunity of being in the house to take money and jewellery, with the proceeds all spent on drugs.

As well as the theft, Willett defrauded small amounts of money from Angela Barley and Elaine and Bill Newell.

Mr Jones told the court that Willett knocked on Ms Barley’s door in March 2017, and told her she was collecting money for a sponsored walk in memory of her daughter who had died of cancer.

Ms Barley had in actuality lost her own daughter years prior, and was taken in by Willett’s story to the point that she invited her inside and gave her £5.

Mr Jones said: “Ms Barley became suspicious when she noticed this woman had no collection tin or documents.

“After the defendant had left she spoke about it with her family and called the police.”

The Newells were also victims of fraud, handing over £30 between them in June after being told the money would be spent on food parcels for children.

Representing Willett, Andrew Molloy said that she committed the crimes all to fund her Class A drug habits.

He said she was determined to beat her addictions, and had been making progress in doing so that would be difficult to maintain if sent to jail.

He went on: “This whole experience in the crown courts has been a stark wake-up call for Ms Willett.

“She is genuinely remorseful for her actions and sorry for the hurt she caused.”

Judge Peter Barrie sentenced Willett to 12 months for the theft and three months for each fraud offence with two of them, relating to the Newells, to run concurrently.

In total she will serve 18 months, half on licence.

The judge said: “You befriended Margaret Haines, who was 94 years of age and getting forgetful. You did this for the purpose of being able to steal from her.

“This was the worst sort of exploitation of the trust of an elderly lady.”

Regarding the frauds, he said: “You spun a completely false tale of why you were asking these elderly people for money.”

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