By Ted Davenport
A businesswoman who helped her seriously ill neighbour during the first Covid lockdown has been cleared of trying to steal his inheritance by forging his will.
Claire Symons was found not guilty of altering the will of frail retired oncologist Dr Paul Davis after a jury heard that he had short term memory problems.
Former nursery manager Symons has always denied altering the will in her favour and said she had written down exactly what Dr Davis had dictated to her.
The jury at Exeter Crown Court were read notes from a practice nurse at Dr Davis’s GP surgery which said he appeared incoherent during a consultation a few months earlier and said he ‘always suffered from short term memory loss’.
Symons and Dr Davis lived in neighbouring cottages in Bradworthy, near Holsworthy, in early 2020 when she started going around to help him by cooking and cleaning.
She also called an ambulance and cleaned up the mess after he had a fall and lay injured on the ground for many hours before being taken to hospital and stabilised.
He alleged that he asked her help in writing a will at a time when he had just been told that he had terminal lung cancer and was dying.
He said he wanted to leave his property to two old friends who lived locally and two cousins who lived in Australia but that she wrote herself in as the main beneficiary.
Dr Davis obtained the pro forma will from a post office and had already obtained the signatures of two friends as witnesses even though the details had not been filled in.
He said he asked Symons to write the will because he was so shaky that he feared his won handwriting would be illegible and that she took notes of his wishes before taking the blank will away to be filled in.
He got the impression that Symons was reluctant to return it, and when she did so, he was shocked to see that she was to inherit almost all his furniture. He did not own the cottage and the total value of his estate was only £7,500.
Dr Davis, who gave evidence by video-link from his oak-beamed cottage, said he was shocked to see the will and immediately wrote VOIDED across it in red ink before calling the police.
Symons said she had only tried to help her neighbour and that she had written the will exactly as he dictated it. She said she thought he had not family and was rewarding her for the help she had given him.
She said: “I wrote down 100 per cent what he told me. There was nothing added by me whatsoever. They were his words. He wanted me to deal with it however I felt fit. I read it back to him when he finished.”
Symons, aged 55, of Ford Cottages, Bradworthy, near Holsworthy, denied making or supplying an article to be used in fraud and was found not guilty at Exeter Crown Court.
The verdict means Symons will be able to carry on with her plans to expand her business running a craft stall at a market in Devon into starting her own shop.
The jury reached their verdict after Mr Richard Crabb, defending in his last contested case before retirement, told the jury they could not be sure that Dr Davis had not dictated the will and then either forgotten what he had done or changed his mind.