Life sentence for woman in £3.5 million forged-will murder

·5-min read

A woman who forged the will of a wealthy landowner before starving him to death to inherit a slice of his £3.5 million fortune has been jailed for life.

Carer Lynda Rickard, 62, was found guilty of murdering former auctioneer’s clerk James Sootheran, known as Anthony, 59, at his property, High Havens Farm in the village of South Newington, Oxfordshire, in March 2014.

She had been paid £47,000 a year to look after his elderly mother, Mary Sootheran, known as Joy, until her death, aged 92, in 2012, and lived at the farm with her American-born husband Wayne Rickard, 66, before they were evicted in 2017.

Rickard admitted helping herself to tens of thousands of pounds of the Sootherans’ money, which was used to fund her family’s lifestyle, including private school fees for her three now-adult children.

She also accepted forging the mother and son’s wills, which would have entitled her to half of Mrs Sootheran’s £1.5 million estate and a third of Mr Sootheran’s £3.5 million fortune.

Mr Sootheran, who owned the farm, including 60 acres of land, was more than six feet tall but weighed less than nine stone, having lost so much weight due to malnutrition, when he was found dead on March 18 2014.

Police body-worn camera footage shows Rickard sitting on her sofa, calmly lighting a cigarette, as she is arrested for his murder.

She did not give evidence at a trial at Reading Crown Court, but denied murder, claiming the death of Mr Sootheran – described as “a recluse prone to gross self-neglect” with “complex mental health issues” – was a result of how he chose to live his life.

But she was found guilty last Friday in what prosecutors believe is the first successful conviction for murder by deliberate starvation in more than a century.

Wayne Rickard
Wayne Rickard (Thames Valley Police/PA)

Judge Mr Justice Wall handed Mrs Rickard a life sentence, with a minimum term of 28 years, on Tuesday, telling her she had “cynically and systematically bled this family” over a decade.

“Your greed was such that when you thought Anthony Sootheran might act in a way which would derail your gravy train, you murdered him,” he said.

“You murdered Anthony in a most cruel and hard-hearted way. You starved him of food and left him on a mattress on the floor of his room to die.”

The judge said Rickard could have easily ended his suffering, but told her: “You were prevented from doing so only by your extraordinary greed.”

He added: “He died a man not only relieved of much of his money, but his dignity as well. You must have watched him die in that way.”

Wayne Rickard was jailed for a total of 10 and a half years after he was acquitted of murder but found guilty of causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable adult.

James 'Anthony' Sootheran
James ‘Anthony’ Sootheran (Thames Valley Police/PA)

“You were the only person who could have saved Anthony Sootheran, but instead of doing so you left him to die the most horrible of deaths,” the judge told him.

“I can only conclude you decided not to help him because you hoped to profit from his death when, as you expected, your wife inherited a substantial sum of money from him.”

The couple were also both found guilty of fraud by false representation, relating to a £33,000 Mitsubishi Shogun paid for with Mrs Sootheran’s money in 2010, while Wayne Rickard was convicted of a charge of perverting the course of justice.

Lynda Rickard earlier pleaded guilty to four fraud charges, two counts of forgery, two counts of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, possession of articles for use in fraud and obtaining benefits by deception.

Mr Sootheran’s accountant daughter Hannah Sootheran, who won a civil court fight for her father’s estate against the Rickards, said the impact on her and her family’s lives had been “heartbreaking”.

The court heard how Lynda Rickard isolated Mr Sootheran and stopped him from seeing his daughter.

“I can’t comprehend how somebody who said they cared deeply for my dad left him to die in such horrible conditions,” she said in a statement read in court.

“I have not had the chance to grieve and get on with a normal life.”

Joy Sootheran
Joy Sootheran (Thames Valley Police/PA)

The Rickards, of Edinburgh Close, Banbury, Oxfordshire, stood trial alongside friends Michael Dunkley, 49, Denise Neal, 41, and Shanda Robinson, 51.

Dunkley, of Brickle Lane, Bloxham, Oxfordshire, was jailed for two years, and Neal, of Radway Road, Lower Tysoe, Warwickshire, was sentenced to 27 months, after they were found guilty of fraud by falsely claiming a will in the name of Mr Sootheran was genuine.

Robinson, of Sage Road, Banbury, Oxfordshire, was jailed for 32 months after she was found guilty of one count of fraud by false representation, and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, for falsely claiming a will in the name of Mrs Sootheran was genuine.

June Alsford, 78, of Little Lane in Aynho, Northamptonshire, previously pleaded guilty to one count of fraud and one count of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice over the scam, and was sentenced to two years imprisonment, suspended for two years.

Peter Burt, head of the Crown Prosecution Service Thames and Chiltern Complex Casework Unit, said: “The sentences handed to Lynda and Wayne Rickard today reflect the extreme severity and cruelty of their crimes.

“Though nothing will make up for Anthony’s death, we hope that these sentences go some way to delivering a sense of justice to Joy and Anthony’s family and friends.”

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