A trained accountant is accused of stealing £600,000 of her mother’s money – spending it on foreign holidays, cars and property development.

Paula Macpherson, 55, is said to have fraudulently obtained a £25,000 loan in her adoptive mother's name, transferred a £4,000 credit card debt onto her mum’s card and skimmed cash from payments meant to be supporting her brother.

Opening the case against the north Oxfordshire woman at Oxford Crown Court on Wednesday (March 22), prosecutor Adam Pearson accused Macpherson of trying to cover her tracks by giving the money transfers out of her mother’s account descriptions like ‘bond transfer’ and moving the cash between different bank accounts over which she had control.

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Mr Pearson told jurors: “The money was not being invested. It wasn’t being saved. It wasn’t being used for the purchase of bonds. It was being spent. It was being spent by Paula Macpherson on herself and for her own benefit.”

In total, it was said that the defendant took £623,000 of her mother’s money between 2011 and 2016. She paid back around £20,000, leaving a balance of just over £600,000.

Jurors were told that Macpherson had spent lavishly on foreign holidays, including to Oman and the Maldives, with British Airways and luxury travel agency Scott Dunn.

Over a five year period, she was said to have spent ‘almost quarter of a million pounds’ on holidays and overseas travel.

Almost £150,000 was spent on property and £57,000 on car finance payments.

At the time of the fraud, Macpherson and her brother Peter had power of attorney over their mother’s financial affairs. While Peter lived with their mother in Bickerton, near York, while Macpherson lived with her husband and family near Banbury.

Until 2015, their mother’s financial affairs were overseen by a local firm. It was said that in June that year, Macpherson – a trained accountant who already had access to her mother’s online accounts – suggested she should take over managing her finances.

Oxford Mail: Paula Macpherson, right, leaves Oxford Crown Court Picture: Oxford MailPaula Macpherson, right, leaves Oxford Crown Court Picture: Oxford Mail (Image: Oxford Mail)

In November 2016, jurors were told, the defendant’s mother walked into a branch of HSBC in Wetherby, North Yorkshire, and asked to speak to a member of staff about a direct debit that had been set up on her account.

The banker told her that the direct debit related to repayments from a £25,000 loan taken out in her name in June.

She looked ‘shocked and confused’ when told the news, Mr Pearson told jurors. “She said she never took out a loan.”

That prompted a review of her account by staff at the local branch. The prosecutor said: “He could see that hundreds of thousands of pounds had been transferred out of her account, leaving her unable to cover upcoming direct debits.”

The only account that had not been touched was a fixed terms savings account from which withdrawals could not be made, jurors were told.

The bank informed North Yorkshire council’s social services department who, in due course, informed the police.

Mr Pearson said of Macpherson’s alleged victim: “According to [her], the defendant had never spoken to her about transferring large amounts of money from her accounts to Mrs Macpherson’s and nor had they been authorised by her.”

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The jury heard that the defendant allegedly failed to tell her mother or brother that she had sold a cottage, called Plum Lodge, the rental from which was supposed to be paid to her brother Peter. She instead made the £375 a week payments from her mother’s account, it was said.

After Macpherson’s brother borrowed cash from their mother, it was allegedly agreed that the mum would take £100 a week from his Plum Lodge income. However, Mr Pearson claimed the £100 was kept by the defendant.

When she was twice interviewed by detectives after the alleged fraud was discovered in 2016, Macpherson was said to have failed to mention the fact she had sold the cottage.

In her first police interview in 2016, she said her husband had been out of work since March 2015 and they were in debt ‘to the tune of approximately £1m’ and her mother had agreed to loan them money.

She claimed to have told her mother and brother about her financial difficulties, the jury was told. She accepted transferring the debt from her credit card to her mother’s, but claimed it was with the woman’s permission – having called her ‘when she, the defendant, was in the Maldives’.

In the 13 months following her first interview, £15,900 was transferred back to her mother’s accounts, the jury heard.

In a second interview, in 2018, she said her mother’s memory had ‘declined’, beginning in around 2015.

Summarising the defendant’s account, Mr Pearson told the jury: “She in sum denied acting dishonestly, said anything she had done had been with the knowledge and consent of her mother.”

Macpherson, of Sibford Ferris, North Oxfordshire, denies five counts of fraud by abuse of position. The trial – expected to last 10 days – continues.