A “callous” man who purported to carry out probate for vulnerable clients has been jailed after admitting to defrauding them of nearly £1m.
Peter Grant Holbrook, 75, actually used the money swindled from eight victims and their families over more than a decade to feed his online gambling habit.
Recorder Richard Thyne KC at Bradford Crown Court sentenced him to five years and three months in prison for offences under the Fraud Act 2006 after an investigation by West Yorkshire Trading Standards (WYTS).
He operated through a company called ‘PGH Associates and Will Associates’ and held himself out as a financial adviser, targeting elderly clients who had just lost a partner.
WYTS said: “Holbrook used his profession and experience to skilfully deceive his victims, giving an impression of credibility and integrity to his work.
“His victims were led to believe that he was carefully investing their money and handling their financial affairs with their best interests at the forefront of what he was doing. However, this was not the case.”
Following the death of a client’s spouse, he would offer to help the surviving person with the probate and to ‘invest’ their estate. He would then forge documents as evidence that his actions were genuine.
For example, when one family sought to withdraw their investments, Mr Holbrook “weaved a web of lies, including that he had been to America to try and retrieve the allegedly invested money”. He also produced two fraudulent letters from high street banks explaining the delays in the victims receiving their money.
Mr Holbrook admitted that he had not invested any of the identified victims’ money; in that case he did pay the family a small proportion of their invested money back four years later, but most received nothing.
In another case, in the guise of handling the probate, he undersold the family home through an auction site.
Sentencing Mr Holbrook, the judge said: “You selected your victims who were either elderly or at a time they were most vulnerable after the loss of a loved one. You prepared and presented false documents and pass books furthering your deception.
“You told lies to victims and their families when they became suspicious, and even arranged a phone call masquerading as a police officer to say it was not a police matter.”
He initially told investigators that he was a rich, professional gambler and that the victims’ money was in offshore accounts, before eventually admitting what he had done. Victim impact statements called him “callous” and “predatory”.
Saying Mr Holbrook had shown little empathy for his victims, the judge continued: “I have read the many personal statements from the people affected in full to comprehend the magnitude of your offending.
“You took away their financial security and hard-earned money, plans for retirement, houses had to be sold in order to pay care home fee’s, victims suffered intolerable anxiety and mental health issues. They have suffered deep hurt, and misunderstandings within the families.’
The court has set a timetable for a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing.