Vulnerable man ‘starved to death by tenants’ found in foul cell, court told

A vulnerable landlord allegedly starved to death by his tenants was discovered living in a “foul, unhygienic cell”, a court heard.

James Anthony Sootheran was found dead in his bedroom at High Havens Farm in South Newington, Oxfordshire, on March 18 2014.

The 59-year-old former auctioneer’s clerk, who owned the property which includes 60 acres of land, was once more than six foot tall and weighed 17 stone.

But in the months before his death he was seen appearing “scruffy, skinny and dishevelled”, Reading Crown Court heard on Thursday.

Lynda Rickard, 61, and her husband Wayne, 64, who both lived with Mr Sootheran when he died, are charged with his murder between March 13 and March 19 2014.

Lynda Rickard
The trial has been told the Sootherans were reliant on Lynda Rickard, pictured, for care (Steve Parsons/PA)

The couple, of Edinburgh Close, Banbury, are on trial alongside Michael Dunkley, 48, Denise Neal, 39, and Shanda Robinson, 50, who are charged with fraud.

All five defendants deny the charges against them.

Prosecutor Oliver Saxby told jurors that the case involved “casual, opportunistic greed” that developed into “something utterly routine and brazen”.

He said Mrs Rickard allowed Mr Sootheran to become “utterly isolated” at the farm, even changing the settings on his mobile phone so it was unable to receive calls.

“I say, ‘allowed him’ [to become isolated], it is probably more accurate to say that this is something she facilitated and encouraged,” Mr Saxby said.

The court heard how Mr Sootheran, who was from a wealthy family of landowners, was found in a “terrible state” when he was visited in October 2013 by Richard Stubbs, who dealt with the family’s trust.

Wayne Rickard
Wayne Rickard denies ‘having anything to do with Mr Sootheran’s death’, his trial has been told (Steve Parsons/PA)

“The bedlinen was stained and looked like it had not been changed in months, “Mr Saxby said.

“A window pane was broken. In the corner, there was a pile of Anthony’s hair. There was no television in the room. There were no books, or magazines.

“In short, it was a cell, a foul, unhygienic cell.”

Mr Saxby said the alleged victims in the case, Mr Sootheran and his 92-year-old mother Mary Joy Sootheran, who suffered from dementia before her death in August 2012, were reliant on Mrs Rickard for care, but were ultimately “exploited” by her.

“She was eyeing a windfall,” Mr Saxby said.

“That windfall came to be dependent on Anthony Sootheran’s death. And she got impatient, and worried that the windfall might elude her.”

 Lynda and Wayne Rickard
Lynda and Wayne Rickard outside Reading Crown Court (Steve Parsons/PA)

Mr Saxby said: “In the simplest of terms, assisted by her husband, she starved him to death, thereby securing for herself and her family the windfall she craved.”

The court heard that Mr Sootheran had “complex” mental health issues and was a recluse who was prone to self-neglect.

Mr Saxby said Mrs Rickard had already admitted forging the wills of Mr Sootheran and his mother.

The forged wills entitled Mrs Rickard to half of Mrs Sootheran’s estate, valued at just under £1.5 million, and a third of Mr Sootheran’s, worth about £3.5 million, the court heard.

Mr Saxby said Mrs Rickard had also admitted to using between £50,000 to £167,000 worth of Mrs Sootheran’s money as her own, and £40,000 to £133,000 of Mr Sootheran’s.

In December 2010, the Rickards allegedly spent more than £30,000 of Mrs Sootheran’s money on a Mitsubishi Shogun, Mr Saxby said.

Denise Neal
Denise Neal is charged with one count of fraud by false representation (Steve Parsons/PA)

Mr Rickard allegedly told the garage owner that his mother-in-law was treating him to a vehicle, while Mrs Sootheran told others it was her son’s car.

The court heard Mrs Sootheran had £80,000 in savings in 2011, but by the summer of 2012 she only had about £5,000.

The jury was told Mrs Rickard had pleaded guilty to four fraud charges, two counts of forgery, two counts of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and possession of articles for use in fraud.

Mr Saxby said: “Lynda Rickard says that Anthony Sootheran’s demise was a consequence of how he chose to live his life, and that his death was entirely coincidental to her having forged his will.”

He told jurors Mr Rickard denies “having anything to do with Mr Sootheran’s death”.

Mrs Rickard is further charged with the manslaughter of Mr Sootheran through gross negligence, while Mr Rickard is accused of causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable adult.

Mrs Rickard also denies a charge of fraud, in that she allegedly abused her position as carer for Mr Sootheran by allegedly using his money for her own purposes.

They are also both accused of a single count of fraud by false representation relating to Mrs Sootheran.

Shanda Robinson
Shanda Robinson is on trial at Reading Crown Court (Steve Parsons/PA)

They deny all of the charges against them.

Dunkley, of Brickle Lane, Bloxham, and Neal, of Radway Road, Lower Tysoe, Warwickshire, are charged with one count of fraud by false representation.

It is alleged that between January 28 and May 31 2014, Dunkley and Neal falsely claimed a will in the name of Mr Sootheran was genuine.

Robinson, of Sage Road, Banbury, Oxfordshire, is charged with one count of fraud by false representation, where it is alleged she falsely claimed a will in the name of Mary Joy Sootheran was genuine.

She is also accused of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, which she denies.

June Alsford, 77, of Little Lane in Aynho, Northamptonshire, who is not standing trial, has already pleaded guilty to one count of fraud and one count of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

The five defendants were all granted bail. The trial continues.

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