Mr and Mrs Reeves – 2½ years for theft of godmothers life's...

Mr and Mrs Reeves – 2½ years for theft of godmothers life's savings

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Facts

Having been convicted in August of stealing approximately £130,000 from her godmother, Lesley and Andrew Reeve returned to Middlesborough Crown Court for sentence on 20th September 2013.

It seems that Ms Reeve was granted a ‘power of attorney’ over 91 year Joan Killen’s affairs. This gave Ms Reeve the right to control Ms Killen’s financial affairs, including her bank account. With that power, however, comes the obligation to deal honestly and fairly with her money, and ensure that it is all spent properly on, in this case, Ms Killen.

The prosecution allegation, which the jury accepted, was that despite the fact that the Reeves would have, in due course, inherited Ms Killen’s property under her will, they decided to use her money for their own purposes. including “clear[ing] credit card debts and spen[ding] some of the cash on converting the garage of their home into a wet room and gym.

 

Sentence

The Judge described the offences as ‘selfish and greedy’ in the course of passing the sentence of 2½ years. We don’t have the sentencing remarks, but the Judge would have been working off the Sentencing Guidelines for Theft.

It is likely that the Judge would thought that Ms Reeves was in a ‘high’ degree of trust. This puts it in the top bracket for sentencing with a starting point of 3 years and a range of 2-6 years.

Given that there was a trial, this would appear to be towards the low end of the scale. This is probably because of the fact that she has not been in trouble before and the breach of trust is not as high as it could be (eg a solicitor stealing from her client would be treated more seriously). Putting it all together, it would seem that the sentence was about right.

Mr Reeves would appear to be in a different position as he did not hold a power of attorney. Is his sentence therefore too high? The Judge probably thought that this difference was a technical one, and they were both equally responsible.

This is probably fair enough given that it does seem to have been very much a joint effort. There will probably be an appeal against the sentence, but it would not surprise me if it didn’t go anywhere.

Additionally, there will be confiscation proceedings in relation to the money taken.

 

A question for law students (and others)

We don’t have the exact details, but it seems that when there was no question about her capacity, Ms Killen made a will naming the Reeves as beneficiaries. The Court could (and probably should) make a compensation order for the money recovered in Ms Killen’s favour, so any money confiscated by the Court would go back to Ms Killen.

Assuming therefore (as seems to be the case) that Ms Killen no longer has the capacity to make a will, when she dies will the money just go back to Mrs Reeves in any event? Is there anything that the Crown Court can do to stop that?

Whether or not you’re a lawyer, how do you think that court should handle this issue?

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Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.

7 COMMENTS

  1. The trustees probably took the view, perfectly correctly, that having made a will naming her beneficiaries, which she had not the capacity to change, the testator would wish to reduce or to eliminate inheritance tax, by gifting to the beneficiaries, during the final seven or more years of her life, any capital that she didn’t need to live on. The trustees and the beneficiaries were one and the same. It would be necessary for the trustees to put out of their minds completely the fact that they were the beneficiaries themselves, when taking any decision that they took in their capacity as trustees, to make gifts to the beneficiaries (whoever they might be) during the testator’s lifetime, for the purposes of reducing or eliminating inheritance tax.

    They should have delegated such decisions to professionals, if they accidentally remembered that they were the beneficiaries as well as being the trustees. If every withdrawal had been meticulously documented, and if the written advice of a tax-planning consultant for the trustees to make the payments to the beneficiaries had been offered in evidence, they would surely have had a complete defence. They could have called the beneficiaries A and B, in setting out the situation on which they had sought the tax-planning consultant’s advice in the first place.

  2. If the money ran out and the old lady needed residential care the (local) taxpayer would have had to pay the fees; still will if the money is not recovered. If the crime had not been committed the money would have had to be used first. That may or may not be as it should be (some people will say that it penalises thrift) but the defendants had no business trying to protect themselves against the possibility. It stinks and I have only that minimum of sympathy for them which it behoves us all to have for anyone imprisoned.

    • My concern is stealing from a 91 year old woman attracts a lighter sentence than stealing from the CPS (remember the minicab false invoice scam) huge inequity here it seems to me and this was not a victimless crime.

    • I felt the CPS Two were treated harshly and yet the Godchildren Two seemed to get off quite lightly by comparison but maybe because the money were coming their way anyway as she’d bequeathed it to them if I’ve understood correctly.

  3. They had no business jumping the gun. You could say she should have got slightly more because she was the actual trustee but that might be a bit artificial – and there may have been other factors running the other way.

  4. In my swan-necking of the sentencing around certain offences against individuals and government bodies, the book is thrown at those who are within a government body and commit a crime against that body. Same with the Chris Huyne case, he was sentenced because of the perjury crime, not because of the I’m-going-to-get-away-with-a-driving-ban issue.

    Whether or not the godchild was a beneficiary or not, the fact is she committed an act of theft at the time of withdrawing the money to pay off her own bills. I’m not a law student, nor am I lawyer, in terms of my own case and the offences my accuser committed against me, I had no recourse to use any of his behaviour in my defence. It was the act at the time of writing and signing the cheque. Therefore, the godchild has been found guilty of theft, that was her intent. She used money with an intent to deprive her godmother of those funds to use for her own advantage. An order should be made to repay those funds back to the godmother.

    I hold an LPA for my mother both of her financial affairs and her health and welfare. When my case was publicised, a social worker actually made a report to the police who contacted me and I had to show all my mother’s bank statements and receipts of the previous 12 months. Had I not been able to account for every penny, then the police would have arrested me and likely had me charged with theft., Had I not had an LPA then it would have been down to my mother to make the complaint were that the case. Because of the benefits my mother has in place and that I have an LPA, I have to show every three months what that money is spent on. Standard practice when a person is in receipt of income to pay for care of a person lacking capacity.

    The fact that an LPA is in place, means those who act as a POA have a responsibility to handle any financial transactions in an honest and open manner. The act of theft was against her godmother, yet in essence, it is also against a public body. The Office of Public Guardian who awards the LPA.

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