A gold-digging mother of two who plundered a lonely bachelor’s inheritance money so she could fund her craving for online shopping and betting machines has been jailed for 18 months.
Karen Hughes (50) had just become Malcolm Hibbert’s first girlfriend for many years when she began targeting his bank account after he was left £56,000 by his elderly parents.
Within seven months most of the money was gone after scrounging Hughes, who was living on benefits, took control of her besotted boyfriend’s finances. She splashed out on seaside holidays for herself and 60-year old Mr Hibbert while secretly pocketing almost £20,000 of the legacy for herself.
In one three month period it is feared she spent £16,462 playing fixed odds betting terminals - dubbed the ‘’crack cocaine of gambling’’ - at her local bookmakers. She also used his cash to pay Wonga loans and set up internet accounts with Argos, Littlewoods and Next.
Mr Hibbert, an only child, who had lived with his parents for his whole life and knew little about finance only discovered he had been ripped off when he went to his bank to ask why transactions had been blocked and found he had only £10,000 left of the nest egg. Hughes ended their relationship when she was asked about the money.
Mr Hibbert a Burnley delivery driver, condemned his former lover as she was jailed. He said: ‘’I was taken for a ride in the cruellest way possible. I had only just lost my mum but Karen suddenly got more involved in my life and was arranging the funeral and everything. She became my rock. I am normally very cautious with money but she wormed her way in and virtually spent the lot. I just didn’t have a clue what she was up to. I thought we would have been sweethearts for life but it looks like ultimately she was only after me for my money. I feel like I’ve been taken for a mug.’’
Essentially she doesn’t have £2 to rub together, she never did. She is not a lady who lived a lavish lifestyle. She is remorseful and bitterly regrets her actionsDefence team
Burnley Crown Court was told Hughes began her relationship with Mr Hibbert in December 2011 when he was living with his widowed mother Ruth. They never lived together but would see each other several times a week and she had keys to his property. In September 2012, Mrs Hibbert (84) died and left him with an inheritance of £56,000 which she built up with her late husband Alan who died aged 74 in 2003.
Stephen Parker (prosecuting) said Mr Hibbert was not a wealthy man but even before the inheritance became available in March 2013 Hughes had “very quickly” taken control of her boyfriend’s finances and set up an online bank account for him.
The couple went to Blackpool six times as well as to Scarborough, the Lake District and Cornwall where they went to football matches, on railway trips and even had a speedboat jaunt. She would book the holidays then pay for them with his money after he asked her to action his bills for him.
But Hughes also used his cash to make card payments to William Hill and took out loans with Wonga to cover the transactions. In one day alone £1,300 was taken out of Mr Hibbert’s account. On the day the inheritance money was paid it, Hughes paid herself £5,760 followed by payments of £1,000 and £1,450. She also set up accounts with Wonga, Argos, Littlewoods and Next on the internet using his name and made purchases.
Mr Parker said: “Mr Hibbert is a man who had always lived with his parents. His parents had always done his accounting and taking care of his finances. His father died several years ago and he lived with his mother. “He had little or no understanding of banking and how it worked because his mother had control in relation to his finances. In terms of monies, he had somewhere between £10,000 to 15,000 of his own money in savings other than the inheritance that he received, held in various accounts.
“She didn’t consider her actions dishonest and said he would probably have let her take the money if she asked. This was more than just a breach of trust because of his vulnerability. He was heavily dependent on her, the degree of trust was higher.”
The money went missing between January and July 2013 before Hughes was arrested. She confirmed she had dealt with his financial matters and bills and said that the transactions were both for her sole use and for their joint use. She said she was never not told to spend the money and would show him receipts after withdrawing from the cash point. She also said Mr Hibbert would ask her to marry him on a daily basis.
In a victim impact statement Mr Hibbert said he felt “frightened” and often had trouble sleeping and would “sit around the house for days end, crying on a daily basis”.
He said he had been grateful when Hughes had helped him after his mother’s death but as a result of what happened felt “hurt and betrayed”. He no longer enjoyed life and was struggling to focus on anything else and had made him “sink further into his shell”. Santander have since refunded him all the money.
Hughes, from Lancaster, who showed no emotion in court admitted theft and fraud. She had previous convictions for chequebook fraud and served a nine-month prison sentence in 1993.
In mitigation defence solicitor Anthony Parkinson said Hughes had significant gambling issues and her habit began during a previous relationship as “some sort of escapism from that daily life”.
He added: “These offences would not have been committed had that money not been readily available. This gambling problem has always been in her life and was the whole motivation. Essentially she doesn’t have £2 to rub together, she never did. She is not a lady who lived a lavish lifestyle. She is remorseful and bitterly regrets her actions.”
Passing sentence the judge Mr Recorder Stephen Riordan QC told Hughes: “Whether or not you knew that inheritance was coming I do not know. But you began plundering his bank account on a regular basis even before the inheritance arrived in his account. He trusted you to look after his affairs for him and you knew perfectly well he was not ever going to check on what you were doing.
‘’I have little doubt if it had not been discovered you would have gone on plundering his account until it was empty. The effect on him was devastating. He’d had no effective relationship for many years if at all, naturally enough he became dependent on you. You have let him down. You have mercilessly stolen from him over a period of time. Your eyes let you steal in order to indulge in your hobby.”