A WOMAN who stole £93,000 from an elderly widow who had come to trust her as a friend has been jailed for 28 months.

Fiona Louise Harwood, of High Street in Neyland, abused her position as power of attorney while informally caring for a woman in her 80s, to access her bank account and spend thousands of pounds on clothes, a holiday and dating websites.

The victim had so much trust in Harwood, who she had initially paid as a cleaner, that she had amended her will to leave the 50-year-old her house. She later discovered her friend had flouted her position for her own gain.

Dyfed-Powys Police sergeant Stuart Wheeler, who investigated the claims of fraud, explained that the incidents were reported to the force in January 2019.

He said:

“This was a saddening investigation to work on, as it transpired the suspect had blatantly abused the trust of a vulnerable elderly woman who believed she could depend on her.

“Before coming to police, the victim had become aware that she hadn’t received a bank statement for over a year and asked a friend to help her look into it.

“It transpired that the victim’s friend had been alerted to suspicious financial activity around six months earlier when a Debenhams statement was received showing purchases made at the firm’s Exeter branch. Not only did the victim not hold an account with Debenhams, but the friend was aware that Harwood had recently visited the city.

“After contacting the bank for up-to-date statements, the friend saw there was a huge shortfall from the victim’s accounts, with just £6,000 remaining across an ISA, savings and current account.”

Paperwork showed four pages of purchases from Amazon, which the victim would not know how to use, stores including Next and Joules, and online dating sites.

Officers visited the victim and learned that she had known Harwood for many years and had employed her to clean her home. She went on to claim a carer’s allowance and was given power of attorney when the victim’s husband died in 2016.

“The sum of money missing from the victim’s accounts far surpassed what would have been spent in caring for the victim,” PS Wheeler said.

“She had taken advantage of a friend in an appalling way.”

As well as using the victim’s card to go shopping, financial checks showed Harwood had withdrawn £18,676 from ATMs and transferred £50,300 to her own account.

Harwood was arrested on suspicion of fraud in February 2019. She later claimed she had been giving money to another woman from the victim’s account.

She was charged with fraud by abuse of position, and two counts of fraud by false representation – opening a Next account and Debenhams account in the victim’s name.

Harwood appeared at Swansea Crown Court on Friday, September 25 where she pleaded guilty to the charges.

She was sentenced to 28 months in prison.

PS Wheeler said:

“In being granted power of attorney, the defendant was expected to safeguard the financial interests of the victim, not use the position for her own gain,”

“I have no doubt that this criminal behaviour would have continued if the victim’s friend had not become suspicious that something wasn’t right.

“We hope this sentence goes to show that committing fraud of this nature will not be tolerated.”

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