Jailed: Hitchin woman who defrauded elderly mother-in-law out of £300,000

Debbie Graham, 55, from Hitchin, has been jailed for three years. Picture: Herts police

Debbie Graham, 55, from Hitchin, has been jailed for three years. Picture: Herts police - Credit: Archant

A 55-year-old Hitchin woman who defrauded her elderly mother-in-law out of more than £300,000 was yesterday jailed for three years.

Debbie Graham – of Grove Road, and also known as Debbie Reid – admitted three counts of fraud and one of theft against her husband’s mother Barbara Tilley, who died in late 2015.

She was jailed for the crimes, described by police as “despicable”, when she appeared for sentence before Judge Jonathan Cooper at Cambridge Crown Court yesterday afternoon.

The massive appropriation of funds came to light after Mrs Tilley, who was in her 80s, moved into a residential care home.

She was a self-funding resident, paid for in part by the sale of her home – but the cash raised by the sale ran out sooner than expected.

This raised the concerns of social services, who had been asked to pay for her care, leading them to contact police.

Graham had been made a signatory for Mrs Tilley’s accounts in 2008 with the aim of helping her with her financial affairs.

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But between that time and 2014, she arranged under false pretences for Mrs Tilley’s pension – worth £14,450 – to be paid into her own account.

She also arranged transfers totalling almost £113,000 from Mrs Tilley’s bank account into her own, and ensured that she received more than £160,000 from a property lawyer dealing with the sale of Mrs Tilley’s home.

She separately stole another £20,000 belonging to Mrs Tilley.

The sentencing is the culmination of a 2½-year investigation by Herts police’s specialist Safeguarding Adults from Abuse (SAFA) unit.

A financial investigator was employed to trace the many financial transactions that had occurred. Vast amounts of evidence had to be gathered from banks, former employers and other companies to uncover the frauds and check false alibis given by Graham.

Investigating officer Det Con Ellie Hancock-Denniss said: “This was a despicable crime, in which Graham took advantage of a vulnerable woman in the last years of her life in order to fund her own lavish lifestyle.

“Mrs Tilley never learned of the crimes committed against her by her daughter-in-law. But family members have lost their rightful inheritance, and public money had to be used to care for the elderly victim and keep her housed with a warm bed at night.

“Graham has no assets or property to speak of herself, so there is no chance of recovering what she has stolen.

“Sadly, vulnerable adults are often targeted by family members or others who are in a position of trust.

“However, this kind of offence is not treated lightly by Hertfordshire Constabulary – and no stone was left unturned in order to bring Graham to justice.”

SAFA is a specialist team of detectives who investigate offences against vulnerable adults by someone in a position of trust to them.

Investigations are often lengthy as there is often no victim statement – due to their vulnerability – and the complex nature of the investigations.