Paisley Daily Express

Cruel and callous

Sheriff blasts despicable suicide pact fraudster as he sends her to prison

- Chris Taylor

Fraudster Linsey Cotton was yesterday branded “deplorable, callous, despicable and shameful” by a judge as she was jailed for three years.

Sheriff Robert Fife blasted the evil conwoman who hounded Paisley mum and daughter Margaret, 52, and Nicola McDonough, 23, to their deaths with threats and demands for money.

He caged Cotton, 33, at Paisley Sheriff Court after Scotland’s most hated woman admitted extorting £10,500 from the family after duping Margaret’s son Michael, 33, into an internet relationsh­ip using a fake profile.

Sheriff Fife told the cheat she had spun a “complex and intricate web of deceit and lies” which had ultimately pushed the vulnerable pair into an apparent suicide pact.

He explained: “I think the best word to sum up what you have done is ‘cruel’.”

Margaret and Nicola were found dying in a Greenock hotel, after Cotton told them they would go to jail for 20 years if they did not hand over £5,000.

Mum-of-two Cotton, of Addiewell, West Lothian, admitted bullying the family into parting with cash and even a fake engagement ring for Michael’s made-up fiancée.

Pathetic Cotton showed no emotion as she was led to the cells.

She had earlier begged for mercy and claimed she launched the scheme because she knew Michael would have no interest in the real her.

A conwoman whose “wicked” hoax led a Paisley mum and daughter to kill themselves in a hotel bloodbath was yesterday caged for three years.

Twisted Linsey Cotton, 33, admitted targeting the family of Michael McDonough, 33, after she hooked him on dating website Plenty Of Fish using a fake profile.

She dragged mum Margaret, 52, and sister Nicola, 23, into her trap after duping the RAF technician into proposing to fictitious girlfriend “Stephanie”.

The mum- of- two extorted £ 10,500 from Michael in a year by pretending his absent internet fiancée was dying and needed money for life-saving treatment.

Paisley Sheriff Court heard how Cotton had spun a “complex and intricate web of deceit and lies” which drove the pair to take their own lives in a hotel room after her evil scheme spiralled out of control.

Sheriff Robert Fife told her: “I would describe your actions as deplorable, callous, despicable and shameful.

“I think the best word to sum up what you have done is ‘cruel’.

“You were cruel to Michael McDonough, to Margaret McDonough and to Nicola McDonough.

“My sympathies go out to the McDonough family and their friends for their loss.

“But it is important that I record you have not been charged with the deaths of Margaret McDonough or Nicola McDonough.

“I have to sentence you for the charge you have pleaded guilty to.

“You placed extraordin­ary demands on people who were vulnerable.”

Stunned family and friends of Margaret and Nicola, from the Stanely area of Paisley, wept as the fraudster was jailed.

Cotton, of Addiewell, West Lothian, had her hair scraped back and wore no make-up, showing no emotion and staring ahead as she was led to the cells.

Defence solicitor Gerry Bann told the court that Cotton was “sorry for her actions” and was spurred into lying by fears Michael would reject her if he knew the truth about her identity.

He explained: “She was assessed as being a lonely, socially isolated, needy and unhappy woman who has lost control of her weight and has absolutely no self-esteem in her ability to attain or attract a suitable partner as a result.”

Cotton claimed she created the Stephanie character in 2012 after being insulted by men on the dating website, and following a string of relationsh­ips with abusive and violent men.

Mr Bann told how reports suggested she suffered “chronic anxiety” due to her image issues and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following the death of her dad in 2004.

He said she was “acting out a fantasy, more appealing than living in the real world” and was “obsessed” with Michael.

The lawyer told Sheriff Fife his client’s motive was to “keep hold of Michael” and “a better standard of living and finances” was secondary.

Cotton kept her story going by creating a cast of characters, using 15 mobile phones and two laptops to bombard Michael with almost 35,000 text and instant messages in six months from her creations.

These included Edinburgh University student Stephanie’s three step-sisters Becka, Shania and Sam and her dad Billy.

Each had a role in maintainin­g the subterfuge, as did Steph’s thuggish ex Jason, who had battered her, leaving her with broken bones.

Lawyers Callum and Jennifer, QC Quentin and judge Phillip were also introduced and the medical team tasked with saving the sick woman’s life were Dr Collins and nurse Ashley.

Cotton soon introduced herself to the family in real-life as Stephanie’s only friend.

She told them she had power of attorney for her pal and dreamt up fake drug firm Biotech, which she claimed would save the sick woman’s life, if Michael was willing to part with cash.

Cotton sent Michael images of a girl

undergoing heart surgery and claimed he would only be able to see Stephanie if he agreed to propose with a £2,000 diamond engagement ring he had bought.

The McDonoughs were warned not to talk about the medical treatment due to a legal gagging order.

And, when Cotton found out Nicola had discussed the medical help with the family, she sent messages from a made-up lawyer, warning the mum and daughter faced 20 years in jail.

She told the family they could escape prosecutio­n if they handed over £5,000 to make the case “disappear”.

Cotton also demanded a further £500 for a “fake passport” in case Nicola had to flee the country.

In a text message sent to Michael from Stephanie, Cotton wrote: “I want revenge on your stupid f*****g sister. I want to put her in fucking prison – she opened her mouth.”

In a bid to be closer to Stephanie, Michael moved into the home Cotton shared with her children.

While the two were living together, Cotton told friends and family they were engaged and began wearing the engagement ring which had been bought for Stephanie.

Mum-of-four Margaret, a foster carer and a former Liberal Democrat council candidate, was found with fatal wounds on her arms in a hotel room in a Greenock Premier Inn in May ,2012.

Social work student Nicola was discovered in a corridor with matching injuries.

Both were rushed to the nearby Royal Inverclyde Hospital, but neither survived.

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Support Family and friends of tragic Margaret and Nicola McDonough arrive at Paisley Sheriff Court
Support Family and friends of tragic Margaret and Nicola McDonough arrive at Paisley Sheriff Court
 ??  ?? Much-loved Margaret McDonough (above) and (below) daughter Nicola
Much-loved Margaret McDonough (above) and (below) daughter Nicola
 ??  ?? Targeted Michael McDonough
Targeted Michael McDonough
 ??  ?? Shameful Conwoman Linsey Cotton has been locked up
Shameful Conwoman Linsey Cotton has been locked up
 ??  ?? Seeing justice done Family and friends arrive at court
Seeing justice done Family and friends arrive at court
 ??  ?? Behind bars
Linsey Cotton
Behind bars Linsey Cotton

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