COUNCILLOR John Morgan was yesterday jailed for five years for stealing £154,000 from an elderly Alzheimer's sufferer in what a judge described as the most serious breach of trust possible.
The 75-year-old was found guilty of one count of theft after he emptied the bank account of Beryl Gittens, who was 92 when she died in 2012, and spent most of her savings on service station fruit machines and trips to Las Vegas.
Speaking after the hearing, the sister-in-law of his victim said the former Conservative Vale of White Horse district and Wantage town councillor “got what he deserved”.
Morgan shook his head as sentence was announced in Oxford Crown Court and continued to insist 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 passing sentence, Judge Mary Jane Mowat said this was a “pathetic” lie and branded Morgan, of Highclere Gardens, Wantage, “arrogant and self-deluded”.
She said: “In my view, there is no grosser breach of trust than the abuse of the power of attorney to the benefit of the holder.
“And where was this money going? Into gaming machines.
“You were very obviously, in my judgement, a gambling addict with the addict’s capacity for denial and self-deception.
“Your history of public service stands in strange and startling contrast to the devious and shambolic way you dealt with Beryl Gittens’ affairs.”
Morgan’s theft, between March 2005 and January 2012, led to West Berkshire Council losing £76,000, which would have gone towards paying for Mrs Gittens’ care, and her son being deprived of a £71,000 inheritance.
Michael Roques, prosecuting, said a hearing will now be held on April 3 to try to recover any money Morgan still has, including £120,000 worth of equity he is believed to have in a house he shares with his wife.
Lauren Soertsz, defending, said that before he started stealing Mrs Gittens’ money, Morgan had been of “exemplary good character”. She told Judge Mowat that for more than 20 years, he had been a councillor and had done work for a number of charities, including Mencap.
She said: “Mr Morgan was a good friend to Mrs Gittens, and it is my submission that this crime does not detract from that completely.
“One interpretation of the evidence was that Mr Morgan had an addiction to gambling.
“And someone who has an addiction can still be a good friend.”
Speaking after the hearing Audrey Pagett, Beryl Gittens’ sister-in-law, said: “He got what he deserved. This has drawn a line under it now. I’m just very pleased it’s over.
“And I’m pleased for my husband and my sister-in-law. I never trusted him right from the word go. It was just a gut feeling.
“I just don’t know how people like that do those sort of things.”
Morgan, who has stood down from the Tory Party, will only cease to be a Vale councillor if his 28-day right of appeal expires and this is then ratified by a vote at full council.
Conservative councillor for Wantage Charlton, Fiona Roper said: “I’m shocked and saddened by what has happened to him.
“But it was a serious breach of trust and they had to make an example of him. It is such a big responsibility to have power of attorney.”