Saturday 18 November 2017

Pregnant secretary (47) faked husband's will to exclude stepdaughters from £1m estate

Liam Brien was sentenced to eight years imprisonment by Judge Rory McCabe on March 17 2013.
Liam Brien was sentenced to eight years imprisonment by Judge Rory McCabe on March 17 2013.

A solicitor's secretary who faked her husband's will to cut his daughters out of their share of his £1 million estate has been jailed for 21 months - despite falling pregnant at the age of 47.

Dawn Smith turned the lives of her two adult stepdaughters upside-down by making them believe their father, the Darlington businessman Harvey Smith, did not want to provide for them when he died aged 61 from pneumonia.

His heart-broken family could not believe how Smith then visited Turkey - understood to see a waiter she has since married - on an almost monthly basis, Teesside Crown Court heard.

Judge John Walford told Smith, of Carmel Road North, Darlington, a suspended sentence was not suitable.

"If I had only you and your unborn child to consider, I might have been able to consider that option, but in my judgement to do anything other than pass an immediate custodial sentence would be an affront to your step-daughters who you so cruelly deceived by your actions."

Smith admitted drawing up the false will before his death, forging his signature and those of witnesses. She falsely swore an oath that the document was legal.

Judge Walford sentenced her to 21 months, saying: "I am conscious this will be your first custodial sentence and I cannot ignore the fact that you are pregnant but there will be a sentence of some length to mark the seriousness of this offending."

Earlier in the sentencing exercise, he questioned the timing of her falling pregnant. It was understood she was 18 weeks pregant, dating back to her last visit to Turkey, a source said.

The judge said: "There must be a suspicion, to put it no higher, that she has deliberately become pregnant in order to gain an advantage in the sentencing process."

Caroline Goodwin, defending, told him: "It came as a complete and utter shock to her."

Miss Goodwin said the pregnancy was also a surprise to her partner.

The court heard how Mr Smith's family found it very hard to accept that his widow had remarried so soon after his death.

The judge praised Mr Smith's daughter Karen Harwood for "so elequently expressing" in a personal statement she made to the court, how the forged will made her and her sister Zoe feel their father had turned his back on them.

The judge told Smith: "It was too late for them to be able to discover the truth of his feelings for them and in so doing, you turned their world upside down.

"What you did revealed you to be manipulative and deceitful, selfish and callous."

He said she abused her position of trust by using knowledge she gleaned as a solicitor's secretary at a firm where her late husband was a client.

Mrs Harwood spoke emotionally about the "tremendous" impact the case had on her life, how her health had suffered and she needed counselling.

She told the court being cut out of his will meant she felt her father had not loved her and his three grandchildren.

"It made me think what I had done for him to behave in this way and abandon me," she said.

"I always believed my dad would provide something for his grandchildren as he loved them so much."

And Smith cynically pretended to be horrified about the will, she said.

"Before this crime became apparent, I recall Dawn Smith on a number of occasions expressing to me and to others her disgust at my father's apparent action," she said.

Mrs Harwood said Smith told her: "I cannot believe he has done this to you and your kids."

Her family had been "robbed" of knowing what her father's true intentions were.

And she said a proud man like her father would have been disgusted to know that his funeral bill went unpaid, leaving a debt against his name.

Julie Clemitson, prosecuting, said Mr Smith had prostate cancer in his latter years and was drinking a lot at times. He had visited his solicitors to discuss writing a will but had not completed it. When the will was produced which left nothing to the daughters, a solicitor who knew Mr Smith was suspicious and called in the police.

His widow denied any wrong-doing until the trial was due to start in November. In the meantime, his family have spent £20,000 in legal fees to contest the bogus will.

Miss Goodwin, defending, read a lengthy letter from Smith detailing her feelings of remorse and self-hatred and in which she apologised for the pain she caused.

"Being part of a family means you are part of something irreplaceable," she wrote. "I forgot that and I am deeply sorry, and I accept that I am no longer part of the family, but that is my own fault."

A hand-writing expert was called in by the prosecution to prove that the signature purported to be Mr Smith's had been forged.

Smith, who only married the wealthy businessman in 2009, three years before his death, auctioned off family heirlooms.

Detective Constable Mick Trodden, who investigated the case, described her as calculating.

Previously, he has said of the dead man's family: "They now question what Dawn Rutland [her maiden name] saw in the millionaire Ronald Harvey Smith MBE."

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