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Councillor guilty of stealing £154,000 from pensioner
A DISGRACED Conservative councillor is today facing jail after he was convicted of stealing and gambling away £154,000 from an elderly Alzheimer's sufferer.
Relatives of Beryl Gittens, who was 92 when she died last year, have spoken of their relief after John Morgan was convicted of theft yesterday.
A jury at Oxford Crown Court took just 90 minutes to unanimously return a guilty verdict against the Vale of White Horse district councillor.
As the verdict was read out, the 75-year-old closed his eyes and held on to the dock wall, before sitting down and shaking his head.
Morgan maintained throughout a week-long trial that Mrs Gittens, for whom he had power of attorney, told him in 2005 to gamble away all her money to stop her extended family inheriting it when she died.
But during his closing speech to the jury, Michael Roques, prosecuting, said this was “frankly ludicrous” because it was, in fact, her son Roger Gittens who stood to inherit almost everything.
He said Morgan, 75, of Highclere Gardens, Wantage, spent thousands of pounds on service station fruit machines and on a trip to Las Vegas because of a gambling addiction which he tried to pretend belonged to his victim.
Mr Roques said because of the defendant’s actions, West Berkshire Council lost £76,000, which would have gone towards paying for Mrs Gittens’s care, and her son was deprived of a £71,000 inheritance.
Speaking from his home in Perth, Australia, Mr Gittens said the family had been left devastated.
Mr Gittens told how he had trusted Morgan with his mother’s day-to-day finances because he was just “so far away”.
“It’s not about the money – it’s about someone we all trusted who did this to his friend,” he said.
“It’s only thanks to Aunty Audrey (Pagett), who realised something was amiss, that any of this was found out.”
He said Morgan’s whole defence case was “flimsy at best”.
“Mum and John Morgan met in the New Inn pub, which she ran," he said.
“As I said to the court, he was a good friend to her. Such a good friend that he got power of attorney and I was glad that she had someone there with her.
“I was always under strict instructions that he would get the first £5,000 when mum died because of what he had done for her.
“He was under instruction to buy gifts on her behalf for family at Christmas and birthdays.
“It was never meant to go any further than that.”
Speaking after the hearing, her sister-in-law Audrey Pagett, 80, of Hitchen Close, Marshfield, near Chippenham, said she and her family were delighted with the verdict.
She said: “It is wonderful news, but I just feel it is so sad that someone who had 100 per cent trust in someone else was treated like that.
“We are so glad he’s been convicted. I never trusted him. I just had this gut feeling not to.
“But Beryl trusted him 110 per cent and then he betrayed her.
“I couldn’t say why he did it, but I certainly don’t feel sorry for him.
“He should’ve known better.
“Beryl was always a very smart, well-dressed, together woman.
“It was terribly sad what happened to her.”
Mr Roques told Judge Mary Jane Mowat yesterday that the Crown Prosecution Service would be seeking half the value of a house Morgan used to share with his wife in Wantage.
He said a timetable would now be set for confiscation proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act to recover as much of the stolen money as possible.
Judge Mowat adjourned the case for a pre-sentence report to be prepared, but said Morgan's crimes crossed the threshold for custody “by some way”.
She said she hoped he would be “more forthcoming” with the probation service about what he had done than he was during the trial.
Morgan was released on bail until sentencing on January 10.
Det Sgt Rachel Jackson, investigating the offence, said: “Not only did Morgan defraud a vulnerable and elderly woman of a vast amount of money from the sale of her house, he also used his position on the council to arrange home care for her, lying about the victim’s financial affairs to cover the fact he had stolen all her savings.
“A jury saw through his lies.”
Colleagues on council shocked over court case
JON Morgan’s constituents and fellow councillors have been left shocked by yesterday’s verdict.
Matthew Barber, leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, last night said he now expected Morgan to resign from the council.
And he said if the Tory councillor was jailed for more than three months, he would be automatically forced off the council.
The Conservative leader said: “I am hugely disappointed. Everybody put their faith in John and we had said ‘innocent until proven guilty’.
“Clearly this is a devastating verdict.”
The leader stressed Morgan’s crime was a personal rather than a council issue, but added: “In the town of Wantage, people will be shocked and surprised.”
Morgan was elected in 2008 to represent the Wantage Charlton ward for the district council. He stepped down as vice-chairman of the planning committee when charged earlier this year.
He was also a Wantage Town Council member.
Jenny Hannaby, Oxfordshire County Council member for Wantage and Grove, yesterday said the case was a “real tragedy”.
She said: “It is unbelievable that this has happened because you would not have thought there were two men in there.
“He has done such good work around the town.”
She added: “I believe that he has let himself down, he has let his family down, and he has let the community down.”
Peter Fowler, landlord at the Shoulder of Mutton pub in Wallingford Street, said he was “absolutely appalled” by the case.
He said: “For anyone to steal from anyone is bad, but to steal from a 91-year-old person is just despicable.”
Geoff Rice, 66, from Parsonage Close, Charlton said: “Either he was telling the truth, in which case his behaviour was incredibly naive, or his defence was naive, but either way he is not someone one would wish to be represented by on either council.”
James McGee, 26, owner of Wantage funeral service and a Conservative party member, said: “It is obviously quite a shock to see this from someone in a local position. It is particularly shocking when someone stands so firmly against their charge.”
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