'Dishonest' Staffordshire woman swindled £634k from will beneficiaries

Two Staffordshire women have been jailed for defrauding and laundering £634,000 from deceased people's estates - including money intended for charities such as Cancer Research.

Laurna Porter was a probate manager at two firms of solicitors, during the period that she swindled the will beneficiaries. Many of the cheques were paid into the account of her friend Julie Atkins, with a portion of this money later transferred back to Porter.

Porter, 69, was jailed for four years today at Stafford Crown Court after pleading guilty to charges of fraud by abuse of position and money laundering. Atkins, 68, was found guilty of money laundering earlier this year and was today sentenced to 30 months at Stafford Crown Court.

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The offences were uncovered when Porter moved firms and a discrepancy was discovered with one of the wills involving a £5,000 payment to Atkins. An audit by both firms where she had worked uncovered fraudulent money transfers over a total period of 13 years, involving 23 wills.

Porter deliberately targeted victims without close family where she thought the fraud would probably go unnoticed. The fraudulent payments were usually disguised in the accounts either as a debt owed by the estate or a gift.

Among the beneficiaries who lost out were charities including Cancer Research, Great Ormond Street, local hospices and animal charities, as well as family and friends of the deceased.

Prosecutor Anamarie Coomansingh, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “This was a calculated fraud over a period of 13 years, which generated a significant amount of money.

“Laurna Porter breached her legal duties as a probate manager and abused her position of trust in taking funds from life-saving charities, as well as from families of the deceased.

“It must have been particularly distressing for the families and friends, who simply wanted to see their loved one’s last wishes properly executed.

“The CPS will now seek to recover any available criminal proceeds from the defendants, in order to compensate the beneficiaries.”

Porter and Atkins were both arrested at their home addresses in Tamworth on April 10 2018. Evidence showed that thefts had taken place in estates handled by Porter between 2006 and 2018.

DS Andrew Shorthouse, of Staffordshire Police, said: “We welcome the Judges sentences given to Laurna Porter and Julie Atkins today.

"The fraud was targeted and systematic over a long period of time and could not have been successful without the repeated dishonest actions of both.

"Porter held a position where trust had to be placed in her by those whose estates she managed; that trust was breached.”

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