Louise supporters reject fraud claim

Woodward case: Trustees of defence fund vote to continue backing in face of lawyer's claims of fraud by mother
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The Independent Online
SUPPORTERS OF Louise Woodward, the British au pair convicted in Boston last year of killing the baby in her care, voted unanimously to continue backing her yesterday despite claims that her mother, Susan, had defrauded a trust fund set up for her defence.

Meeting in the village of Elton, home-base to the British support-Louise effort, trustees of the fund chose to discount the allegations. They were made on Monday by Daniel Sharp, the husband of Elaine Whitfield Sharp, who last week was sacked from the Woodward defence team.

Yesterday, Mr Sharp reiterated his charge that Susan Woodward forged an invoice last autumn to obtain $15,400 (pounds 9,500) from the fund. He alleges that while money was ostensibly drawn to repay him and his wife for housing Woodward and her family during the appeals process it was in fact pocketed by the family.

The invoice brouhaha is just the latest in a string of public relations setbacks for Woodward. After months out of the headlines, she has suddenly found herself the object of renewed scrutiny, because of what appears to have been a bitter falling out with the Sharps, whose home she left in early March.

Woodward, believed to be living now with friends in Boston, is all the while living in wrenching suspense. Her passport still confiscated, the 20-year-old awaits a decision from the seven-judge Supreme Judicial Court in Boston, which has been pondering her fate since an appeal hearing on 6 March.

The Rev Ken Davey, chairman of the Elton fund, said yesterday: "The trustees of the appeal fund unanimously decided to continue supporting Louise Woodward and her parents. We always considered the Woodward parents to be honest and straightforward and that opinion has not changed."

The statement did not answer the central point: whether the invoice was believed to be a fake or not, and Mr Davey refused requests to clarify the matter. It was Mr Davey who released the invoice to the media in an attempt to prove that the Whitfield Sharps had charged Susan and Louise Woodward.

But Mr Sharp yesterday again suggested that Susan Woodward had "swiped some of our letterheads" to make the forged living-expenses invoice. Denying that he or his wife had any enmity against Woodward, Mr Sharp went on: "What that amounts to is that money that should have been used to defend Louise Woodward was used by the Woodwards personally. I don't think that that's what the little old ladies were giving their money for. We never gave them an invoice, they lived here for free, Susan lived here for free."

Mr Sharp accused the trustees of failing to answer the central question: "They don't deny the invoices are phoney, they don't deny that is Susan Woodward's handwriting. My message to the trustees is simple, put up or shut up. They should get into the substance of the allegations."

Susan Woodward yesterday refused to make any comment apart from saying she endorsed everything said by Mr Davey, and her local MP Andrew Miller, who had spoken up in her support.

The split between Woodward and the Sharps became public two weeks ago after Ms Whitfield Sharp, who is British-born, was arrested outside Boston for drunken driving. The arresting officer said in his official report that she told him she was distraught because she had come to doubt Woodward's innocence in the death of nine-month-old Matthew Eappen. Days later, reports surfaced of comments made by Ms Whitfield Sharp over the phone to an anonymous friend, purportedly describing Woodward as a "duplicitous monster".

The other members of Woodward's defence team announced last week that Ms Whitfield Sharp was being removed from the case.

After being convicted last October of second-degree murder and sentenced to life, Woodward was subsequently released on time served by Judge Hiller Zobel who reduced the verdict to manslaughter. It is that decision the Superior Court is now weighing.

Last night a new row broke out when Ms Whitfield Sharp said she had told her fellow attorneys she "wanted out" of the controversial case six weeks before the British au pair announced she had fired her.