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Brother guilty of inheritance fraud

A husband has been convicted of swindling his brother out of a share of a £1.5 million inheritance.

Peter Howes, 53, was found guilty of five counts of fraud by a jury following a three-week trial at Bristol Crown Court.

His wife Jane, 51, was acquitted of a single charge of fraud.

The pair, of Lower Barn Farm, Lechlade, Gloucestershire, had denied all the charges and neither showed any emotion as the jury foreman returned the verdicts after three-and-a-half hours' deliberations.

During the trial, the court heard that Howes, as an executor to a number of trusts and settlements, wound them up by forging the signatures of his mother Joyce or elder brother Jonathan.

He also cashed in two life insurance policies, worth just under £100,000 together, before pocketing the money.

Jurors were told that the estate should have been split equally between Howes and his brother, but he transferred cash into a joint account, set up between himself and his mother, then moved it into a sole account in his name.

The cash was then handed to former partners and used to buy a 40% stake in an online gaming company set up by a relative of his wife.

The court heard that Howes's father Thomas set up a number of trusts in 2002 a couple of years before he died.

A letter was sent to both brothers where they were told proceeds of the estate, upon the deaths of both their parents, "should be divided equally between them".

Howes was given the principle responsibility for dealing with the administration of the trusts following his father's death in August 2004, the court was told.

He wound up one settlement, giving half the proceeds, some £120,000, to his brother, who at the time was living in Hong Kong with his wife and children.

During the trial, Howes's elder brother told of his shock at finding his elderly mother's bank accounts almost empty.

Mr Howes, 55, said he had no idea that just £350 was left in his mother's bank accounts following her death in November 2011 aged 81.

Mr Howes, an experienced lawyer based in Singapore, told jurors that he became aware of problems in the probate of his mother's will in 2011 during a conversation with family lawyers.

He then contacted a branch of LloydsTSB in Hastings, Sussex, where his mother banked and was told her accounts were virtually empty with just £350 left.

"I discovered during the course of this discussion that all of my mother's bank accounts were effectively empty - there was no money left," Mr Howes told the court.

"I learned that all the money in those bank accounts had been transferred out to a joint e-saver account.

"The account was opened in the name of Peter and my mother's name was subsequently added on August 7 2009 as a joint account holder.

"They told me that all of the money in all of the accounts had been moved on and then, over a long period of time, had been taken out and gone into Peter's current account."

Mr Howes said the proceeds of the sale of his mother's house - totalling £1,000,050 - had been transferred out.

"The bank told me that they had never been informed of my mother's death," he told jurors.

Mr Howes insisted that in conversations with his elderly mother she never mentioned signing documents to close family trusts - leaving him to receive cash upon her death and his brother the shares.

"I was shocked when I heard this," he said.

"The understanding was that it would be divided equally so I was rather surprised when the solicitor said I would get the cash and Peter the shares.

"I never had any conversation with Peter about winding up the trusts."

Rufus D'Cruz, representing Howes, asked for a pre-sentence report to be prepared and sentencing adjourned on his client because of his "complicated financial position".

"Mr Howes's financial position is complicated and it does require further investigation before sentence to answer questions in relation to civil proceedings or Proceeds of Crime," Mr D'Cruz told the court.

"The reality of his position... he does need time to sort his affairs in order because of how complicated they are. He has obligations to his children from his two previous relationships."

Trial judge, Recorder James Watson QC, released Howes on conditional bail until he is sentenced on a date to be fixed.

He said: "It is not a simple decision to grant bail in the circumstances of a case of this nature. A custodial sentence is likely, in fact more than likely."

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