%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%A wealthy woman was killed and her body hidden by her lover as part of an audacious fraud that saw him strip her and her elderly parents of all their assets, a court has heard.
Donald Graham, 59, is accused of murdering Janet Brown, who has not been seen since 2005, so he could use her estate to fund his lifestyle. He is charged with murder and perverting the course of justice, and denies both charges.
The jury was told that he then set about gaining the trust of her parents, giving him access to banking information and personal documents.
Along with Elizabeth Todd, 51, he is also jointly accused of perverting the course of justice. Ms Todd faces charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and forgery but both defendants deny the charges.
Newcastle Crown Court heard that after first meeting Ms Brown in 1998, the pair had begun a relationship.
Robert Smith QC, prosecuting, said that in 2005 the pair had planned a holiday to France together and they had booked tickets on a ferry from Dover. But shortly before they were due to leave, Mr Graham told her he was unable to go because his wife was too ill for him to leave her.
Ms Brown decided to go anyway, Mr Smith said, and told friends this was what she intended to do. As a result she arranged for a friend to collect her dog from her home at Plane Trees Farm, Hexham, Northumberland, where she lived with her parents.
On arrival he saw that her car had gone and so assumed she had left for her trip abroad. "Her Porsche car was not at the farm when he arrived and he believed that Janet Brown had left for her holiday as planned," he said."He had no reason at that time to think otherwise. But he was never to see or hear from her again.
"Janet Brown has never been seen or spoken to since."
Mr Smith told the jury since that day she has not been in contact with any of her friends, her family, her bank and or any service such as a doctor or the police. In essence, he told the court, she had "disappeared from the face of the earth".
Mr Smith said the evidence could only be explained on the basis she had been killed before she was due to leave for France and that her body had been concealed and had remained concealed ever since.
The court heard when Mr Graham had told Ms Brown that he would not be able to go on holiday because his wife was too ill, he had in fact lied to her. But he had since found a new girlfriend, Elizabeth Todd, with whom he had become infatuated.
Mr Smith told the jury that just before she went missing, Ms Brown transferred Mr Graham the sum of £300,000 after he convinced her to do it through some deceit, only now known to him.
"Donald Graham knew Janet Brown had a significant amount of money in a bank account under her name," said Mr Smith.
"He wanted that money so he could live a lifestyle that involved owning and driving powerful motor cars and to buy a property for Elizabeth Todd to live in."
He would go on to send postcards from France to Janet Brown's parents pretending to be her, saying she had found a job in Europe.
Mr Smith told the court that Mr Graham ingratiated himself with Janet Brown's parents who were elderly and in poor health and after her mother Olive died he began visiting her father Eric at his home. He began to do his shopping for him and went on to gain his trust and confidence.
The jury heard after both parents died Mr Graham went on to arrange their funerals but did not inform any relative but did obtain a death certificate in order to defraud Eric Brown's estate.
While visiting he also gained access to all Janet Brown's bank documents and personal affairs, obtained Eric Brown's cheque book, details of his pension and went onto strip their estate of all their assets through false telephone calls and false withdrawal slips.
The trial continues.
The biggest scams of 2013
Man accused of killing girlfriend for estate
First Direct found that the most common type of fraud was the 'fake email', which makes up 53% of all scams. This is also known as phishing, and involves the fraudsters contacting you, requesting personal information like passwords and PINs.
They use all kinds of methods to persuade you to reveal your details: from pretending to be your bank, to pretending to be the taxman. Earlier this year HMRC warned people to watch out for scam emails promising tax credit refunds in return for account details - timed to coincide with a major advertising campaign to remind people to renew their tax credits.
This is an old and established scam, but is the second most prevalent in the UK this year. It involves someone getting in contact with a sob story, and asking for a sum of money in return for paying you a larger sum. If you pay up you may get requests for more cash but you will never receive a payout.
This year the horrible twist on the scam was that the gangs pretended to be a victim of the war in Syria, in desperate need of money and able to pay you from money he has hidden overseas, once you give him enough money to escape the country.
This is a new take on phishing, which Financial Fraud Action warned about in August. They said victims receive a cold call asking for personal or financial information. Some 39% of all people targeted by these calls said they found it difficult to tell if the person was genuinely from their bank or whether it was a scam. First Direct says this is the third most prevalent type of scam.
Duplicating your bank cards made up 14% of fraud this year. Old-fashioned card scams are actually on the rise this year. The experts say that the introduction of chip and PIN means 'crude scams' are back in vogue, where criminals distract people in shops and bars, or shoulder surf at cash machines and then steal customers' cards without them noticing.
These also make up 14% of all scams. You receive an email telling you that you have won a lottery. All you have to do is get in touch with the 'claims agent' who you'll need to pay a 'processing fee' or a 'transfer charge' to. These 'agents' are all criminals, who will just take your money and run.
We warned in November of a boom in phoney research calls. Boiler room operatives will call pretending to be university researchers looking into investor confidence. In fact, they are just trying to find out how best to exploit you: asking how much cash you have, your attitude to risk, and determining whether an appeal to greed would work.
Back in May we warned that you could receive a telephone call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from Microsoft. The scammers were using a variety of techniques to extract money from their victims. These included infecting computers with malware and charging to remove it, charging people a fortune for help they didn't want or need, or even just asking for their credit card details.
This is not a new type of scam. For years now different types of Trojan viruses have been embedded in various web pages and links. If you click on the page or link you're taken to malicious websites, which install a virus. The virus then quietly sits on your computer, stealing passwords and account details until it has enough details to empty your bank accounts.
This scam took two very popular forms this year. The first was a link sent in an email pretending to be from Facebook, and inviting you to click the link. When you did, it would install the virus and then send the link to your Facebook friends.
The other form was a page with a fake YouTube video in the background, which claimed to show Rita Ora's famous wardrobe malfunction. However, the site prompts you to enter your Facebook details, so you can see the video and 'personalise your experience'. The criminals then have access to your Facebook account.
As the jobs market continues to be tight, the job offer scam is still a real risk. Financial Fraud Action issued a warning about fake online job offers, that could turn innocent job hunters into unwitting money launderers.
The jobs offered are called things like "payment processing agents" or "administration assistants". They involve the payment of the proceeds of crimes into your bank account. You then pay the cash into an overseas account, effectively hiding the money and laundering it for criminals. In return you receive a share of the money. This is a criminal act.
These reached a peak this year after One Direction collected their Brit award (pictured) and announced a World Tour - and demand for the tickets exploded. The scammers set up fake sites offering tickets to sold-out gigs. Desperate fans trawling the net would stumble across them and take a risk. They handed over hundreds of pounds, the criminals took the money, shut the website, and ran.