Man jailed for stealing £110,000 from war hero mother-in-law

A son-in-law who stole £110,000 from a war hero in her final years and continued to do so after her death has been jailed by a judge who said she has a duty to protect vulnerable people from family members.

For eight years, married Ian Downs, 67, siphoned cash from bank accounts he controlled for former publican Mary Garvey, then cashed in insurance policies after she died aged 94.

The debt-ridden former building society worker, of St Bedes, East Boldon, South Tyneside, admitted two counts of theft and was jailed for two-and-a-half years at Newcastle Crown Court.

Judge Sarah Mallett told him: “I have to bear in mind the importance of protecting vulnerable elderly people from exploitation by family members who have easy access to their money.”

Mary Garvey
Mary Garvey with her husband Anthony, who died in 1977 (Northumbria Police/PA)

Mrs Garvey served in the British Army Catering Corps in the Second World War and was credited with a piece of life-saving quick thinking.

While travelling across Europe, she saw someone putting something under an Allied train and told her superior.

As a result, the train was searched and a bomb was found before it could be detonated.

She met her husband Anthony while he was in the Durham Light Infantry and they went on to run a Newcastle pub together until she was widowed in 1977.

She had two daughters Gwenda Gilby and Margaret, who married Downs.

Mrs Garvey, a grandmother-of-two, developed dementia in later years and lived in sheltered accommodation, and her granddaughter Angela Gilby said she died in poverty.

Downs, who had previously worked as a financial adviser, had taken control of her finances with the agreement of the rest of the family.

But the Gilbys did not know he was stealing her cash.

They called police when it became known money was missing.

Fiona Lamb, defending, said Downs had been made redundant in 2001 and was short of money.

“There was no evidence of any extravagant spending, not clothes or a new car, this was to put food in their mouths,” she said.

As an example, she said Downs drove a 1996 Mercedes worth £50.

He has paid £32,000 back to his sister-in-law and niece, the court heard.

Mrs Downs, a part-time hairdresser who has been married to Downs for 42 years, was co-accused but prosecutors did not pursue the case against her.

Mary Garvey
Mary Garvey and husband Anthony on their wedding day (Northumbria Police/PA)

Downs has had bowel cancer and a heart condition, while his wife had a brain haemorrhage in 2000.

Yvonne Taylor, prosecuting, said Downs stole £90,565 while Mrs Garvey was still alive and a further £19,697 from insurance policies following her death.

After her uncle admitted the charges last month, Angela Gilby said: “This case was never about the money.

“It was about the fact a woman who dedicated her life to her country was left to die in poverty.

“My grandmother deserved a life of luxury and should have had anything she wanted, but instead a person she trusted ended up stealing all her money.

“She was vulnerable, lonely and suffering from dementia but my uncle took advantage of that for his own financial gain.

“He has torn our family apart and I will never be able to forgive him for how he treated my grandmother.”