A former senior freemason from Northampton has been jailed for fraud after conning his Masonic colleagues into letting him draw up their wills.
David Bell, of Ecton Brook, pleaded guilty at Leicester Crown Court to defrauding four of his friends in 2007, by creating wills after leading them to believe he still worked for The Will Writing Company, based in Nottingham.
But the court heard the 59-year-old, who was secretary of a Masonic Lodge in Northampton at the time, had resigned from the firm after an investigation into his conduct and was pocketing the cash himself.
The victims, whom he knew through his freemasons' lodge, were led to believe through emails and company notepaper that they were insured and the wills had been examined by a team of expert solicitors.
The court heard experts later declared the wills "not fit for purpose" and said family members may have needed to sue each other over the estate, had any of the victims died before the con was discovered.
Neena Crimion, prosecuting, added: "In terms of potential loss, had the wills not been checked, there could have been very serious financial consequences for the four victims."
The court was told that all of the victims now had new wills drawn up, but they were still owed about £2,500 for will-writing services and about £2,000 loaned to Bell by one of the victims.
Mrs Crimion said The Will Writing Company held an internal investigation into Bell in 2006.
He was paid commission for handling customers' cash, over alleged "mismanaged payments", but he did not attend the disciplinary hearings and resigned in January 2007.
However, managers became suspicious that he was still continuing his work under the company name after one of the victims contacted The Will Writing Company about his will, of which it had no record.
After similar calls, police were called and officers arrested Bell in September 2007 and raided his home in Woburn Gate, Ecton Brook.
Mr Kirk said his client had been motivated by money problems, which he had kept secret from his family but he had now been thrown out of the freemasons after 25 years as a member and was facing shame and disgrace.
Judge Michael Pert sentenced Bell to nine months in prison for the offences.
He said: "These are dishonest offences, committed against people who were your friends. "I cannot treat you any differently because you were up until now an upstanding member of society."
Northampton Press. 04 April 2009