Man accused of killing girlfriend for estate



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.

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