Carer starved ‘vulnerable’ man to death to inherit part of £3.5m estate, court hears

Forged will completely coincidental to wealthy landowner's death, defendant argues

Luke Powell
Tuesday 01 June 2021 19:46
Life sentence for woman in £3.5m forged-will murder

A carer allegedly starved a “vulnerable” 59-year-old man to death in order to inherit part of his £3.5m estate, a court has heard.

James Anthony Sootheran, who was from a wealthy family of landowners, was found dead in his bedroom at High Havens Farm in South Newington, Oxfordshire, on 18 March 2014.

Carer Lynda Rickard and her husband Wayne, who both lived with Mr Sootheran when he died, are charged with his murder between 13 and 19 March 2014.

The couple, from Banbury, are on trial alongside Michael Dunkley, Denise Neal and Shanda Robinson who are charged with fraud.

All five defendants deny the charges against them.

Prosecutor Oliver Saxby told a jury at Reading Crown Court that the case involved “casual, opportunistic greed” that developed into “something utterly routine and brazen”.

He said the alleged victims in the case, Mr Sootheran and his mother Mary Joy Sootheran, who suffered from dementia prior to her death aged 92 in August 2012, were reliant on Ms Rickard for care, but were ultimately “exploited” by her.

“She was eyeing a windfall,” Mr Saxby said.

“That windfall came to be dependent on Anthony Sootheran's death. And she got impatient, and worried that the windfall might elude her.”

The court heard that Mr Sootheran, who owned High Havens Farm, had “complex” mental health issues and was a recluse who was prone to self-neglect.

His mental health gave Ms Rickard “the perfect cover for precipitating his death”, Mr Saxby said.

“She achieved [this] by isolating him, utterly neglecting him, failing to obtain appropriate medical care for him and ultimately, depriving him of food and drink.

“In the simplest of terms, assisted by her husband, she starved him to death, thereby securing for herself and her family the windfall she craved.”

He said Ms Rickard had already admitted forging the wills of Mr Sootheran and his mother.

The forged wills entitled Ms Rickard to half of Ms Sootheran's estate, valued at just under £1.5m, and a third of Mr Sootheran's, worth about £3.5m, the court heard.

The jury was told Ms Rickard had also pleaded guilty to four fraud charges, two counts of forgery, two counts of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and possession of articles for use in fraud.

Mr Saxby said the Sootherans were a wealthy family that owned land in Yorkshire and had “substantial” savings and investments.

They moved into High Havens Farm in 2008 to join the Rickards, who were renting the property from them.

It was agreed that Ms Rickard would care for Ms Sootheran, the court heard.

The jury was told that Ms Rickard had already admitted to spending between £50,000 to £167,000 of Ms Sootheran's money and £40,000 to £133,000 of Mr Sootheran's “over a period of time”.

Mr Saxby said: “Lynda Rickard says that Anthony Sootheran's demise was a consequence of how he chose to live his life and that his death was entirely coincidental to her having forged his will.

“Instead, she did everything she could to help him and was devastated by his death.”

Mr Saxby said Mr Rickard denies “having anything to do with Mr Sootheran's death”, adding: “Indeed, it is his case that he had very little to do with Anthony Sootheran full stop.”

Ms Rickard is further charged with the manslaughter of Mr Sootheran through gross negligence, while Mr Rickard, 64, is accused of causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable adult.

Ms Rickard also denies a charge of fraud, in that she allegedly abused her position as carer for Mr Sootheran by allegedly using his money for her own purposes.

They are also both accused of a single count of fraud by false representation relating to Ms Sootheran.

They deny all of the charges against them.

Mr Dunkley, of Bloxham, Oxfordshire and Ms Neal, of Lower Tysoe, Warwickshire, are charged with one count of fraud by false representation.

It is alleged that between 28 January and 31 May 2014, Mr Dunkley and Ms Neal falsely claimed a will in the name of Mr Sootheran, dated 19 February 2014, was genuine.

Ms Robinson, of Banbury, Oxfordshire, is charged with one count of fraud by false representation between 1 January 2012 and 30 September 2012.

It is alleged that Ms Robinson falsely claimed a will in the name of Mary Joy Sootheran was genuine and had been witnessed in her presence.

She is also accused of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, which she denies.

June Alsford, of Aynho, Northamptonshire, who is not standing trial, has already pleaded guilty to one count of fraud and one count of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

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