On day to re­mem­ber heroes, a de­spi­ca­ble vil­lain is un­masked

Ex-Army con­man stole £20,000 from widow

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - News - By Vic Ro­drick

A DECADE af­ter los­ing her soul­mate to can­cer, Ann Har­g­reaves ten­ta­tively em­barked on a new re­la­tion­ship.

The Army widow was sur­prised to re­ceive a mes­sage on­line from a man claim­ing to have served with her beloved late hus­band – and for the first time since his death she al­lowed her­self to fall for some­one new.

Over the next two years, ro­mance blos­somed be­tween Mrs Har­g­reaves and for­mer mil­i­tary po­lice­man David Potts and he moved from Ger­many to Scot­land to set up home with her.

But to­day – the centenary of the end of WWI – we can re­veal that the trust­ing grand­mother was the vic­tim of a cal­lous scam af­ter Potts, 68, was con­victed of de­fraud­ing her of her life sav­ings.

Liv­ingston Sher­iff Court heard last week that Potts emp­tied the 78-year-old’s bank ac­counts of £20,000 af­ter be­friend­ing her on an on­line so­cial me­dia group for war vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies.

Last night a clearly up­set Mrs Har­g­reaves said: ‘I was conned and feel both stupid and dis­traught. It is dis­gust­ing how he treated me. It’s so easy to trust peo­ple. He was a po­lice­man. When you trust some­body you don’t sit there an­swer­ing ques­tions every day, you just get on with life.

‘My hus­band was so wor­ried about me be­fore he died and did all he could to en­sure I would be se­cure in my re­tire­ment when he was gone. He set me up with pen­sions and sav­ings ac­counts and then this man comes along and steals the lot.’

Mrs Har­g­reaves, who at­tended the court with her fam­ily to lis­ten to the verdict, said she wanted to speak out to high­light to other women who might find them­selves in her sit­u­a­tion how eas­ily she had been conned out of her sav­ings by a man she trusted.

She added: ‘I was dev­as­tated when I found out all my sav­ings had gone. I didn’t know what to do.

‘I lived in my bed­room for months af­ter­wards. I hope he rots in Hell.

‘Now I’ve just got to put it be­hind me. It’s been a very de­press­ing time.’

Mercedes-driv­ing Potts, who now lives in a Cam­bridgeshire vil­lage, went on trial af­ter deny­ing ob­tain­ing more than £20,000 from Mrs Har­g­reaves’ bank ac­count be­tween May 2012 and Septem­ber 2014.

Af­ter hear­ing five days of ev­i­dence, Sher­iff Peter Ham­mond con­victed him of fraud on Thurs­day.

Sher­iff Ham­mond said he was sat­is­fied beyond rea­son­able doubt that Mrs Har­g­reaves had been the vic­tim of a ‘cyn­i­cal and pro­tracted fraud’ by Potts.

The court heard Potts was liv­ing in Ger­many with his dis­abled wife when he first made con­tact with Mrs Har­g­reaves on­line.

He told her he had served in the Royal Mil­i­tary Po­lice – mem­bers of the reg­i­ment are pop­u­larly known as Red­caps be­cause of the scar­let cov­ers on their peaked caps – with her hus­band Peter, who died of can­cer in 2002 aged 63.

Mrs Har­g­reaves sold her home in Ar­gyll and agreed to set up home with Potts in a rented house in Whit­burn, West Loth­ian.

Potts asked her to use the pro­ceeds of the sale to back his plans to set up a busi­ness bring­ing Ger­man tourists over to Scot­land for be­spoke hol­i­days, vis­it­ing scenic beauty spots.

She lent him £15,000 to start up the tourism en­ter­prise, not real­is­ing that he was a cal­lous fraud­ster out to steal all her sav­ings.

He set up in­ter­net bank­ing for her, al­low­ing him to trans­fer money out of her ac­count to pay his credit card bills and fi­nance trips around the coun­try.

She trusted him so much she even granted him power of at­tor­ney over her af­fairs, giv­ing him ac­cess to the £500 a month pen­sion her hus­band had set up for her. She only found out when her land­lady ar­rived with an evic­tion no­tice be­cause, un­known to her, Potts had not been pay­ing the rent.

Sher­iff Ham­mond said: ‘I ac­cept the com­plainer’s ev­i­dence that she did not in­tend for the ac­cused to have un­lim­ited ac­cess to her fi­nances for his own pur­poses, that she was gen­uinely shocked and dis­tressed when she dis­cov­ered she had no money left and that the ac­cused had not even paid the rent for a pe­riod.

‘The ac­cused at­tempted to por­tray Mrs Har­g­reaves as a “silly spend­thrift” act­ing against his wise ad­vice and he also re­ferred to her as a “dom­i­neer­ing woman”.

‘Nei­ther of th­ese con­clu­sions could be in any way sup­ported by lis­ten­ing to the com­plainer’s ev­i­dence and the ev­i­dence of those who knew her.’

He called for back­ground re­ports and de­ferred sen­tence on Potts un­til next month. The ac­cused, who had to surrender his pass­port to the court ear­lier be­cause he was re­garded as a ‘flight risk’, had his bail con­tin­ued.

‘It is dis­gust­ing how he treated me’ ‘A cyn­i­cal and pro­tracted fraud by Potts’

BREACH OF TRUST: Con­man David Potts. Right, Mrs Har­g­reaves with her hus­band’s ser­vice peaked cap ON DUTY: Peter Har­g­reaves serv­ing with the Royal Mil­i­tary Po­lice in Cyprus

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