A financial adviser embezzled £212,000 after being entrusted with the fortune of an elderly Scottish widow while she was battling dementia, a court has heard.
Gordon Couch, 56, has been given power of attorney for the affairs of frail Marjorie Stewart who has entered an Edinburgh nursing home.
He was later appointed executor of his estate after Marjorie died aged 91, leaving a will directing money to be donated to various charities and relatives.
Couch – who was battling personal debt issues – is accused of taking huge sums from the estate when the beneficiaries received nothing.
He was tried in Edinburgh Sheriff’s Court after pleading not guilty to a charge of embezzling money over a period of six years.
Tax MP Jack Caster read a joint minute of agreed facts, telling the jury how Marjorie grew up in Aberdeenshire before moving to Kenya with her husband where they lived for four decades.
Marjorie, a retired maths teacher, moved back to Edinburgh before her husband’s death in 1998, and the couple employed Couch as an independent financial adviser.
Couch, who ran her own Edinburgh-based business called Utopia Financial Planning, obtained power of attorney over Marjorie’s finances.
She had been hospitalized after a fall in January 2012 and was found to have a host of medical issues including heart disease and ‘cognitive impairment’. A doctor ruled that Marjorie was “unable” to make financial decisions due to her dementia.
The court heard Couch was an executor after Marjorie’s death in September 2013. Her will included bequests to nieces and nephews as well as donations to charities including Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation, as well as £3,000 for his cleaning lady.
Mr Caster confirmed ‘to date no funds have been distributed to any of the beneficiaries named in the will’.
The court heard premium bonds held by Marjorie, who had no children, worth £30,000 were sold and the money deposited into her bank account by Couch.
Tens of thousands of pounds worth of National Savings Certificates, ISA funds and stocks were also sold and the money deposited into Marjorie’s account by the accused.
The court was told that dozens of payments were transferred from Marjorie’s account to Couch’s account each year.
Couch transferred £195,538 from Marjorie’s account to his own between April 2009 and May 2015, along with other payments to his company’s account.
The court heard Couch and his wife had a debt management plan from around 2008 to repay £117,800. The amount outstanding was £50,000 in 2015.
Testifying on Thursday, Gordon Mathew, a nephew of Marjorie, described her as an “independent” and “generous” person who “believed in the best of people”.
The retired Church of Scotland minister said he inherited his aunt’s house in the Barnton area of Edinburgh, along with his sister, in his will.
Gordon, from Stirling, said the flat had been sold and the funds had been issued, but there had been delays in payments to other beneficiaries of the will.
He said the family “communicated our displeasure” to Couch about the delays and was told he was wading through tons of paperwork.
Gordon, 73, said: “He seemed concerned that we were chasing this like dogs with a bone.
“In an email, Mr Couch wrote: ‘I’m only human’, in response to why things were dragging on. I found that unprofessional. He gave the impression of delaying maneuvers and it happened time and time again.
The witness said Marjorie “without a doubt” trusted Couch.
Couch, of Penicuik, Midlothian, denies embezzling £212,861 while holding power of attorney and executing Marjorie’s estate between April 1, 2009 and May 11, 2015.
The trial continues.
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