A cruel conwoman cheated a blind amputee out of almost £10,000 after sobbing on his doorstep, pleading for help and claiming her children were starving - but then blowing the cash on drugs, a court heard.
Heroin addict Claire Louise Hutchins turned up at the home of John Hughes, once a week, for almost a year, deliberately targeting his vulnerability and preying on his generosity.
She had claimed to be a friend of his former lodger and churned out a string of sob stories about how her family had no food, gas or electricity or no roof over their heads, Burnley Crown Court was told.
Mr Hughes was taken in by her lies and felt so sorry for her, he handed her his debit card, thinking he was helping a family in need. Instead, he was funding Hutchins’s habit to the tune of about £200 a week.
The hearing was told that, at the time, the defendant was on the heroin substitute methadone, but instead of taking it in place of heroin, she was using it on top of her fix and saving herself the cost of more heroin by using the victim’s money.
Hutchins was eventually warned off using Mr Hughes’s money when ex-lodger Tom Duffy found out, claimed she had already “scammed” him and he wasn’t prepared to see her defraud his friend.
Mother-of-two Hutchins wiped away tears in the dock as a judge told her she had to go to jail immediately for what he described as a persistent, calculated and contrived fraud against a vulnerable, disabled victim. She was locked up for 12 months.
Hutchins (38), of Earl Street, Colne, admitted fraud by false representation, on or between March 2014 and February this year.
Prosecutor Mr Stephen Parker said Mr Hughes suffered from diabetes. He was totally blind and had had his lower right leg amputated.
Mr Parker said the victim was at home in bed when he heard a knock at the front door. He asked who it was and a female voice replied: “It’s Sarah, I’m Tommy’s friend. Is he in?”
Mr Hughes told the caller Mr Duffy didn’t live with him and he lived in Nelson. The female then said she had no gas, electricity or food and thought Tommy would be able to help her.
The prosecutor continued: “She asked Mr Hughes if he could help her out. He told her to return the following day as it was very late. At that stage, he could hear her crying on the other side of the door. She continued to plead for help, saying her children had no food and she had no gas and electricity.”
Mr Parker said Mr Hughes felt sorry for the defendant and let her into the house. Hutchins then claimed she had not been paid her benefits and told the victim if he gave her some money she would repay him by cleaning. The prosecutor continued “he gave her some notes out of his wallet.”
Mr Parker said the defendant turned up several days later but, on this occasion, claimed she was behind with her rent, council tax and other bills.
The prosecutor continued: “Mr Hughes said he felt sorry for her again and gave her his Santander debit card and PIN number and said she could withdraw some cash.” Hutchins returned 10 minutes later, gave him the card back, made some excuses and left.
Mr Parker said the defendant continued to visit Mr Hughes, telling him sob stories and, in his statement, he said he felt a fool for falling for them. He continued to give her his bank card and she went to the cash machine, making withdrawals of up to £250 for the next 11 months.
The prosecutor said the fraud was finally reported to the police after Mr Duffy happened to be visiting the victim, heard a phone call between Mr Hughes and the defendant and recognised her voice. Hutchins was arrested and questioned, denied knowing the two men and claimed she wouldn’t be caught on CCTV at any of the cash points. She was released on police bail, was interviewed again on March 10th and continued to make denials. Hutchins was then shown CCTV from Tesco Express, Colne, admitted it was her, she knew both parties and had been to Mr Hughes’s home on many occasions and taken money from him.
Mr Richard Taylor (in mitigation) said the defendant’s life had been dominated by her heroin misuse for 10 years and she couldn’t shake off the habit. She had attended Inspire, the local drugs team, but it seemed there was no structured programme in place.
Mr Taylor told the judge: “I can say from my conference she is thoroughly ashamed of what she has done and indeed in her pre-sentence report, it suggests she does express remorse for her actions and I ask you to accept that.
“I think the nature of the offence demonstrates the power heroin has had over her to sink quite so low to the depths she has.”
Passing sentence, Recorder Michael Laprell told Hutchins: “The most that can be said in respect of the offence is that you always returned Mr Hughes’ card which he lent you so you could go and make cash withdrawals and you never withdrew more than he and you agreed you would.
“But that, of course, pales almost into insignificance when looked at in the context of the amount you extracted over the period you extracted it.
“The consequences for him have been serious, He was clearly, by his actions in relation to you, a man who tended to trust people. You destroyed that.”