Former councillor from Catterick stole £46,000 from elderly veteran

Stephanie Todd. Photo: Glen Minikin.

A former UKIP and Conservative Richmondshire councillor fleeced a vulnerable widower in his 90s of £46,000 after she found him wandering confused in the street.

Stephanie Todd, 57, said she took Philip Wall, now 98, “under her wing” and looked after him because he had no one else.

But as she played the Good Samaritan she was systematically emptying his bank account and is now facing jail after being convicted of theft by a jury at Teesside Crown Court.

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Todd was selected to represent Hipswell for the Conservatives in 2009, and was a parish councillor for the village until recently.

She defected from the Conservatives to UKIP in 2013 saying she wanted to “stand up for Middle England and out traditional way of life.”

Her decision was lauded by Godfrey Bloom, MEP for Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, who said at the time: “This is fantastic news and shows what I have always known – that we are the way forward for our country.”

She stood for UKIP at the 2015 General Election in the Yorkshire East seat, but was not elected.

In the ten days leading up to Christmas last year, Todd withdrew £1,000 from Mr Wall’s account and also went on a spending spree in Marks and Spencer on his debit card.

Mr Wall, a forces veteran who served in Egypt, was described as “frugal” refusing to pay for a taxi even when he needed to go to an urgent hospital appointment.

But Todd told the jury it was him who went on the three year spending spree after she befriended him in August 2013.

Prosecutor Paul Newcombe said Todd persuaded him to change solicitors and write a new will – leaving his home and contents to her rather than a cat charity as he’d intended.

When Todd took Philip to change the will she told lawyers it was to be altered, otherwise: “There are going to be some very rich cats out there.”
In his 30-year career, Philip worked for the Post Office, British Telecom and then BT. He worked in overseas telephony, and was in Egypt for five years as a serviceman during the war.
He lived all over the country as well as overseas. His wife, 10 years his senior and American,  had a passion for cats, and that’s why he wanted to leave his estate to the Cats Protection League.
Todd didn’t like this, and within months of meeting him, took him to his solicitors and wanted to change his will, saying: “There are going to be some very rich cats out there.”

She also tried to gain Power of Attorney over his financial affairs, but the move never took place when the paperwork was not completed.

Lisa Potts, a solicitor from Richmond firm Hunton and Garget, had a Lasting Power of Attorney and all his bank statements were sent to the firm.

Five months after meeting staff at the practice, Ms Todd took the pensioner to a different solicitors office, where a friend worked, and said he wanted to swap.

A new will was drawn up later in 2014, leaving Todd, who was said to have been in “dire financial straits”, as chief beneficiary.

“On November 5, Mr Wall signed the will in the presence of witnesses at the new solicitors office, and the defendant now stood, effectively, to inherit everything,” said Mr Newcombe.

“She had known him a little less than a year and a half.”

Ms Potts, who returned from leave, became suspicious over the change and noticed her office had stopped receiving Mr Wall’s bank statements.

Along with colleague Claire Richardson, she visited the then 95-year-old as there were fears he was being “manipulated”, said Mr Newcombe.

After Todd’s arrest last June, the solicitors visited the pensioner’s home again, and Ms Richardson asked him about his will.

In a recording played to the court he said: “I put a large part of my estate over to her”.

Ms Richardson asks: “Do you still want that to happen, or shall I change it back?”

The man replies: “Not bloody likely.”

The solicitor asks: “You don’t want it to happen?” He says: “No.”

“Would you like me to do a new will for you to sign in which you give everything you have to the Cats Protection (League) like you did the first time? Would you like me to change it back so this lady doesn’t get anything?”

He replies: “That’s right.”

During one of their visits, he appeared to get upset when asked: “Do you remember what you have given Stephanie in the will you have at present?”

He replied: “I’m not trying to be awkward, but I just can’t think.”

Ms Richardson told him he would get help replenishing his cupboards with food, and said: “I just want to put things right regarding your money. How do you feel about that?”

He said: “My mind isn’t clear enough to feel anything.”

The pensioner – now aged 98 and said to be profoundly deaf and often confused – was too frail to give evidence or be cross examined.

Todd denied any wrongdoing, telling her trial: “There were no big wads of cash in my house, I have not paid off my credit card bills, I have not been on any holidays.”

Mr Newcombe accused her of being “thoroughly dishonest” in her dealings with the former serviceman and his finances by not keeping a record of them.

He also said she had failed to draw a line between the use of his money for himself and for her and used the cash card with reckless abandon to benefit herself.

Jonny Walker, for Todd, of Shute Road, Catterick Garrison, said medical evidence was needed in the case and this would take time to gather.

It is expected the defendant will be sentenced sometime during the New Year.

A customer at her florist’s shop asked Todd in 2009 if she would stand for the Conservatives – she did, and was elected.

“I quite enjoyed it, because I am a people person, and like to help people in the community,” she said. “I am interested in homeless people, and old people.

“The only thing I didn’t like was people never really work together, and we didn’t really get a lot done in a positive way.”

In 2013, she joined UKIP and remained a councillor until she lost her seat two years later.

“I felt the Conservative Party were not really listening to people,” she said.

She said she had been Mayor for a couple of years and had taken Mr Wall to events, such as a Remembrance Day service in Romanby, Northallerton.

She said she had been working from home for an MEP, and “it was quite well-paid for not a lot of work”, which allowed her to spend time with  the pensioner.

Councillor Todd said in evidence she had been a Lady Mayoress.

What that actually meant was that she acted as consort for Councillor Clive World – who is a widower and had no partner – during his spell as the Mayor of Richmond.

Todd acted as his Lady Mayoress in May 2015 when the Queen visited Richmond Castle.

She also accompanied Councillor World on other civic duties during his term as mayor.

Paul Newcombe, prosecuting, told the jury how she found Mr Wall wandering in the street.

He said: “She said that she had found him wandering a street in Richmond, confused, and she took him under her wing so to speak and began to help him.

“Was this a cynical exercise on her part, targeting a vulnerable man for her own purposes or was this simply the act of good Samaritan? This is the central issue in this case. The Crown say that, sadly, the evidence points to the former.”