Lighthouse buyers jailed for swindling more than £100,000

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A couple obsessed by a dream of renovating a lighthouse on a remote Scottish island were jailed yesterday for swindling more than £100,000 from the family of an Alzheimer's patient.

A couple obsessed by a dream of renovating a lighthouse on a remote Scottish island were jailed yesterday for swindling more than £100,000 from the family of an Alzheimer's patient.

Robert Ford-Sagers, a financial adviser, and his wife, Brenda, were sentenced at Southampton Crown Court to three years each for five counts of theft from a trust left by a dead friend after they fell behind on the mortgage for a Hebridean lighthouse.

The couple, both 60, bought the 18th-century Eilean Glas lighthouse on the island of Scalpay, off Harris, in 1984. But by the mid-1990s, the cost of maintaining the property had become too much and Mrs Ford-Sagers had fallen behind on her mortgage payments.

Mr Ford-Sagers was persuaded by his wife to plunder a trust belonging to the respected Shakespearean actress Harriet Walter after the couple had fallen into financial difficulties over the lighthouse.

Ms Walter's father Roderick Walter, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease, had left the running of his estate to Mr Ford-Sagers, a trusted friend.

But the court heard the couple transferred £50,000 from the trust to a bogus charity called Friends of Eilean Glas Trust, which was set up in 1996 by Mrs Ford-Sagers, to which she "sold" the lighthouse.

A number of sympathisers donated to the "charity", believing it was a genuine cause.

The couple withdrew money not only to restore the lighthouse, but a further £56,475 to buy premium bonds, pay solicitors' fees and keep up their teenage son's private-school fees. Mr Ford-Sagers lost £20,000 playing the stock market and spent £19,000 on buying his mother's council house. The house was then put in trust so that when it was sold after the death of Mrs Ford-Sagers, the £70,000 raised would go to the couple's son, who is now aged 14.

Mrs Ford-Sagers also pleaded guilty to the theft of £4,800 by selling a boat she had signed over to the Bank of Scotland.

The court heard that in 1999 Ms Walter became suspicious about missing funds and instructed solicitors to find out what was going on.

Sentencing Mrs Ford-Sagers, Judge John Boggis said: "Eilean Glas was your project, you knew it was failing financially, you knew your husband had access to the Walker money and you got him to pay the money for your worthless cause."

He told her husband: "You arranged Mr Walker's affairs in a way that you had full access - you then helped yourself to his money."

After the case, Simon Gillespie, director of operations for the Charity Commission, welcomed the sentences. He said: "It sends a very clear message that fraud, particularly that involving charities, will not be tolerated by the courts.

Mrs Ford-Sagers, from Romsey, Hampshire, whose address is on the Isle of Harris in Scotland, but who had a bail address in Denmead, Hampshire, was also sentenced to one year, to run concurrently, for supplying false details to the Charity Commission.