Conman jailed

News story
News story

A RUTHLESS Wigan conman who groomed vulnerable pensioners and stole tens of thousands of pounds - even forcing one to changed his will - is today behind bars.

Stewart Sermon, 49, had previously admitted stealing more than £50,000 from two OAPs after befriending them and offering them help with their finances.

He was jailed yesterday at Preston Crown Court for five years for two counts of theft.

The court heard that at the time of the crimes, self-employed Sermon, of Bellingham Drive, Wigan, was taken on as a consultant with BL Investments Limited of Haydock on a commission-only basis.

Sermon had befriended an elderly man, Brendan Murphy, who at the time lived in Wigan with his sister, Maureen.

In March 2007 Maureen died and Sermon attended her funeral with Mr Murphy.

The judge heard how the following year, Mr Sermon was given a cheque for £25,470 by Mr Murphy which he was meant to invest for him. But instead he kept the funds.

Mr Murphy, who was now in increasingly frail health, sold his house and moved to a nursing home.

It wasn’t until a friend of Mr Murphy became suspicious over the house sale in 2008 that Sermon’s crimes were discovered.

Prosecuting, Paul Cummings said: “Mr Fairhurst, a former solicitor and friend of the victim, investigated the sale of Mr Murphy’s house. It was then discovered that Sermon had made Mr Murphy draft a new will in 2006 and that he had made himself a beneficiary and executor.”

Two years later Sermon pocketed a further £25,000 from 63-year-old William Hewitt after again befriending him and promising to invest the money.

Mr Cummings added: “In your police interview you said that the money had been a gift.”

However, Sermon did not come under investigation by Lancashire Police until four years ago after visiting 85-year-old Mary Gabbott at her home.

The independent senior citizen lived alone but had some support from carers who would help with shopping and household chores.

In November 2010 a carer showed Mrs Gabbott a letter from her bank stating she was £9,500 overdrawn, leaving the pensioner unable to pay for her care costs.

The previous week, Mrs Gabbott, of Bamber Bridge, near Preston, had been visited by a man claiming to be from the bank, offering to go through her details with her.

When it emerged her savings were missing, a social worker contacted the police and an investigation was launched.

Sadly, however, Mrs Gabbott died last August, before Sermon entered his guilty pleas to the other crimes and the charges relating to the elderly woman were left to lie on the file.

Defending Sermon, Richard Bennett said: “He had financial difficulties caused from spending to live above his means.

“He has a gambling habit and has two mortgages to pay. A change in the financial world affected his business and he saw a huge drop in his earnings.”

Sentencing Sermon, Judge Graham Knowles QC said: “You used your role as a financial advisor to groom your victims.

“You used greed, jealousy and gambling to minimise and justify what you did.

“You told probation officers that your victims were wealthy and would not have spent the money anyway.

“Frail, elderly, vulnerable confused people are to be respected, protected and cared for.

“When you pleaded guilty you said you could access to more than £70,000 in a pension fund to recompense your victims, yet it turns out you cannot access that money for another six years.

“It is beyond belief that a man in your position did not know that already. You show no remorse.”