Au pair's parents deny fund fraud

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The Independent Online
THE ESTRANGED parents of the former au pair, Louise Woodward, protested their innocence yesterday after detectives investigating the pounds 280,000 defence fund established for their daughter charged them with theft.

Gary and Susan Woodward were arrested in May as past of an investigation into the fund set up by wellwishers for their eldest daughter, who was convicted in the United States of killing a baby in her care. Both have been charged with two counts of theft.

Mrs Woodward, 42, from Elton, and Mr Woodward, 43, from Ellesmere Port, visited Cheshire Police headquarters in Chester on Monday night to answer bail. They were told the Crown Prosecution Service had recommended they both be charged with false accounting and procuring the execution of a valuable security. They were bailed to appear at Chester Magistrates Court on 26 July.

Police say a complaint from a member of the public led them to launch an investigation into the Woodwards, with the assistance of the FBI. It is believed to relate to an invoice for pounds 9,000 submitted to the fund for accommodation at the home of Louise Woodward's former lawyer, Elaine Whitfield Sharp.

Mr Woodward's solicitor, Neil Cobley, said: "The charges arise from an allegation of ... presenting [a] forged invoice to the trustees of the [fund]. The invoice purported to come from Elaine Whitfield-Sharpe.

"It is well known Elaine Whitfield-Sharpe has had problems of her own in the US. Obviously she will have to come to England to give evidence and it may be significant that she was dismissed from the Louise Woodward defence team. It will be a long and complicated case with possible investigations on both sides of the Atlantic."

The fund was set up to help the family with the legal bills incurred when Woodward was in Boston in 1997 awaiting an appeal against her conviction for second-degree murder. She walked free when the charge was reduced to manslaughter.