Man stole £22k from his disabled friend, 73

Jailed con artist Peter Stewart
Jailed con artist Peter Stewart

A vile thief who fleeced a severely disabled elderly friend out of her savings was today behind bars.

Peter Stewart’s 73-year-old Wigan victim treated him like a member of her family and depended on him to look after her finances after her husband died and she suffered three strokes, a court heard.

I cannot believe Peter, a friend of 20 years, would do this to me

Agnes Howlett

But unknown to Agnes Howlett, within weeks of her bereavement Stewart started raiding her bank account. And by the time his crimes came to light in June this year he had pocketed almost £22,000.

Jailing him, Judge Norman Wright said that within two months of her husband dying, “you began to plunder her bank account to steal again and again and again increasing amounts of money.

“You knew of her disabilities and that she was vulnerable and you clearly acted in breach of trust. You betrayed the friendship built up over all those years. Your offending was mean and despicable.”

Liverpool Crown Court heard that they had met about 20 years ago when she was an executive officer with the DWP and she interviewed Stewart for a job which he got.

He became a work colleague at the Hindley office and such a good friend she and her husband even took him on holiday with them to their holiday home in France.

When she lost her husband, who had become her sole carer, in March 2014, Stewart offered to help with her banking as by then she was unable to read or write following a third stroke.

He used to help with the widow’s shopping and began using ATMs with her card details, to which he had been given access but unknown to her he was pocketing her cash and using it to pay off his credit card debt and transferring cash to his own bank account.

His dishonesty came to light when she asked her son to get her a balance slip and on being told what it said realised it was not as expected.

A bank statement revealed that over two years between May 2014 and May this year payments totalling £21,750 had been made to Stewart’s account and a credit card company. The sums had initially been modest but increased in amount and regularity.

Prosecuting, Trevor Parry-Jones said the devastated victim, who lives in Aspull, said: “I cannot believe Peter, a friend of 20 years, would do this to me.”

She told how she did not want to come to court: “I don’t want to see him. The mess he has made of my accounts and the worry.”

The pensioner also said that felt “her trust and friendship had been betrayed. I feel upset and deceived and very angry the more I think about it.

“He knows about my health problems and limitations and still stole from me although I am an elderly vulnerable lady.”

The 51-year-old conman, of Fredrick Lunt Avenue, Knowsley, pleaded guilty to theft.

Mr Parry-Jones said that all the stolen money has now been repaid by Stewart.

Martyn Walsh, defending, said that Stewart had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and had never been in trouble before. “He lives with his mother who is elderly and requires his assistance.”

Stewart, who takes responsibility for his dishonesty, has health problems and has hospital appointments lined up, added Mr Walsh.