Woodward lawyer 'did not know of invoice'

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The Independent Online

A former member of Louise Woodward's US legal defence team told a court yesterday of the moment she discovered an apparent fraud involving the former au pair's appeal fund.

A former member of Louise Woodward's US legal defence team told a court yesterday of the moment she discovered an apparent fraud involving the former au pair's appeal fund.

Elaine Whitfield Sharp said a Boston-based journalist quizzed her about an invoice which, she told the jury at Chester Crown Court, was "a complete forgery".

The Merseyside-born lawyer, who described Louise Woodward's plight as "Mary Poppins" gone wrong, maintained that the girl's parents never "paid a penny for accommodation" while staying at her home.

Mrs Whitfield Sharp was giving evidence on the second day of the trial of Gary and Sue Woodward, who stand accused of swindling the fighting fund set up to support their family during their daughter's case.

The Woodwards, both 44 and now estranged, are alleged to have forged an invoice for non-existent accommodation costs before and during Louise's trial in November 1997.

Mr Woodward, a joiner, of Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, and Mrs Woodward, a clerical worker, of Elton, Cheshire, deny forging an invoice for $15,400 and presenting it to trustees to obtain a cheque for £9,113.50.

Donations were made to the appeal fund after Louise's arrest for the killing of eight-month-old Matthew Eappen while she was caring for him in the US.

Louise was convicted of second-degree murder in October 1997, but the trial judge later reduced the verdict to one of manslaughter and freed her by sentencing her to the 279 days spent awaiting trial.

Mrs Whitfield Sharp said she first became aware of the invoice after The Boston Globe reported that she had allowed the Woodwards to stay at her house without charge.

"Someone in the trust in the UK, I believe it was the Rev Ken Davey, had that piece of paper and undertook to prove that I was lying and I had in fact charged Susan Woodward $2,200 per calendar month," she said. The trial continues.