Belfast Telegraph

Celebrity photographer defrauded out of £565,000 by 'evil' personal assistant

A "parasitic" personal assistant swindled £565,000 from an acclaimed celebrity photographer while using his reputation to rub shoulders with stars.

Serial fraudster Caron Westbrook, 53, spent years funding a lavish lifestyle by forging vast cheques from showbusiness snapper David Hogan, leaving him in financial ruin and suicidal.

Mr Hogan, 56, built an award-winning career from decades of photographing A-listers including The Rolling Stones, the Beckhams and Michael Jackson.

Westbrook cashed in on his success to establish herself as a photographer at high-profile events, posing for photos with movie stars such as Tom Cruise.

She worked for Mr Hogan from 2003 to 2014, accruing an illicit fortune that allowed her to live in a host of million-pound properties and enjoy expensive clothing and holidays.

Isleworth Crown Court heard she exploited her victim's dyslexia to assert "unrestricted access" over his finances, even inventing a professional footballer ex-husband as part of the fraud.

Mr Hogan was forced to sell three homes, can no longer get a mortgage because of poor credit ratings and lives in rented accommodation, the court heard.

Westbrook, 53-year-old, who has 44 convictions stretching back decades, including theft from employers and fraud, was jailed for five-and-a-half years by Judge John Denniss after admitting theft and transferring criminal property.

Her husband, Martin Westbrook, 49, who helped funnel the stolen money through his company, was sentenced to three years and four months for transferring criminal property, converting criminal property and fraud.

Passing sentence, the judge said: "This case concerns a very famous and well-known photographer who was highly successful, so successful, for example, in May 2003 he was able to sell his business for over £2.5 million.

"He and his family became the victim of a couple - that is the both of you - who displayed parasitic behaviour toward him, completely betrayed trust which he honestly gave and exploited the fact he suffered from dyslexia.

"Your behaviour over a number of years has had a devastating effect on his family, including divorce and mental problems."

The respected photographer said he had helped Westbrook launch a lucrative career in his industry, letting her attend jobs in place of him, including a shoot with the EastEnders cast.

"I think she was aspiring to be me and have my lifestyle and would just lie to get herself into those situations. She was trying to take over my life," Mr Hogan told the Press Association.

"She is just evil. When it all came out, I was in a really bad state because I was feeling so useless and thanks to my close friends and family, I didn't commit suicide - that is how evil this woman was."

Westbrook, of Lime Grove, Barnet, north London, presented herself as the perfect employee with impeccable references to Mr Hogan - all of which were faked.

The judge said: "You have lived parasitically off of your employers since the early 90s through offence after offence and stepped from your last sentence into work with Mr Hogan."

Westbrook was said to have three aliases and picked up convictions including theft by employee in 1993 and benefit fraud in 2003.

Months before working for Mr Hogan, she was convicted of forging signatures and cheques while working as a bookkeeper.

She claimed she began her theft three years after starting her new job.

To explain her riches, she told Mr Hogan she received a monthly payment from her ex-husband, a footballer named Steve Surriage.

Mr Hogan said: "I would go round to their house and I kept thinking 'I wish I could afford to do this' - I was paying for it."

The former benefit fraudster moved out of a council home and into a rented four-bedroom house in Muswell Hill, north London, which was worth £1,075,000 when sold in 2008.

Prosecutor Laura Brickman said: "The Westbrooks moved home regularly in the Muswell Hill area over the following years, renting several million-pound houses with rents costing between £2,500 and £3,500 a month. They went regularly on holiday and wore expensive clothing."

Among the trove of luxuries found by police in their home were iPods and nine watches.

"David Hogan, by contrast, grew into more and more financial difficulty, with unpaid tax returns and unpaid invoices - the money was not there, it had been stolen in the form of cheques payable to Caron Westbrook or by bank transfer to her bank account.

She added: "She had had wormed her way in as a confidante as well as an essential employee."

The strain of his collapsing finances plunged Mr Hogan into depression, while his wife Janice developed a drinking problem and his daughter an eating disorder, the court heard.

Westbrook's plot was rumbled when Mrs Hogan found credit card bills at an old address, full of payments to the defendant.

The couple initially denied all charges, but then both pleaded guilty to a string of accusations, while several others were left on file.

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