Hartlepool thief jailed after befriending vulnerable man and fleecing him of £50,000 by taking cash from his bank account

A callous Hartlepool woman who fleeced a vulnerable man of £50,000 after deliberately befriending him has been locked up.

Tuesday, 2nd April 2019, 2:27 pm
Updated Tuesday, 2nd April 2019, 2:34 pm
Victoria Woolston, 25, was jailed for 29 monthsat Teesside Crown Court after she pleaded guilty last month to six charges of theft between February2014 and March2016.

Victoria Woolston, 25, set out to steal from the victim, who has learning difficulties and is overly trusting, after making friends with him on social media.

But for around two years she transferred money from his bank account to hers, sometimes on a daily basis.

Teesside Crown Court heard how Woolston persuaded the victim, who we have chosen not to name, to give her money or she helped herself after gaining access to his online banking.

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She was jailed for 29 months after she pleaded guilty last month to six charges of theft between February 2014, and March 2016.

Martin Towers, prosecuting, said: "The defendant developed the relationship with [the victim] for the purpose of obtaining access to his bank account and subsequent funds."

The theft came to light in January 2016 when the victim's brother, who has power of attorney due to the man's learning difficulties, noticed around £4,500 had been withdrawn from his bank and paid into Woolston's.

He called the police after demanding Woolston return the money but she refused.

Mr Towers added: "Thereafter the true extent of the defendant's exploitation of [the victim] and her so-called friendship with him became apparent as well as the methods that she had used.

"A search of her house revealed she was in possession of a number of financial details and in her purse she had bits of paper on which were written security numbers and passwords."

The victim's bank records revealed numerous occasions when money was transferred from his account to Woolston's.

Mr Towers said at times the victim was persuaded to make almost daily transactions of between £500 and £800.

The victim told police he believed Woolston needed the money to help a friend but he ended their two-year friendship when he realised he had been scammed.

The court heard Woolston used some of the man's money to help him relocate from the south to Hartlepool, but she accepted stealing £50,000 in total which so far has not been returned to him. A proceeds of crime application will be made later this year.

She was previously deemed unfit to enter pleas to the offences by three psychiatrists but they later changed their minds when a fourth convinced them she had been deceiving them.

Her lawyer, Armit Jandoo, said in mitigation: "She fully accepts responsibility."

He appealed for the prison sentence to be suspended adding: "It's right to say in some ways on reflection she is thoroughly ashamed of her actions."

The court heard Woolston, of Sheriff Street, Hartlepool, herself has mild learning difficulties and meets criteria for autism.

Sentencing her, Judge Sean Morris said: "What you did was to deliberately befriend a gentleman older than yourself who had considerable difficulties and over a period of time you fleeced him of £50,000.

"That money has gone."

He added she had led the court on 'a merry dance' over her understanding of the case adding: "You have manipulated this process for the last few years.

"The public would be outraged if you walked out of this court after the deliberate targeting of a vulnerable individual and depriving him of vast amounts of money."