Kettering handyman befriended pensioner before stealing £13,000

A handyman who befriended a Kettering pensioner and then began using her bank card to steal more than £13,000 from her has been jailed.

Tuesday, 19th November 2019, 12:22 pm
Updated Tuesday, 19th November 2019, 12:23 pm

Benjamin Watts, 41, of St Catherine's Road in Kettering, had originally pleaded not guilty to the theft – but then changed his plea at Warwick Crown Court to guilty.

He entered his plea on the basis that he had the 76-year-old pensioner’s permission to use her card, and had repaid £4,400 of the money he had taken from her account.

But following a trial of issue - where his version of events differed to the prosecution's - his lying account was rejected by Judge Andrew Lockhart QC who jailed Watts for two-and-a-half years.

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Benjamin Watts outside court.

The widowed pensioner told the court she had met Watts in about October 2015 when he had done some work for her at her home in Kettering, and she agreed with prosecutor David Bright that they had become ‘very close.’

She said she had lent Watts £7,800 to buy a new van, and was then told by her bank that that had taken her beyond her approved overdraft, which she could not understand.

She went to the bank and asked to look at all of her statements, which revealed a large number of cash withdrawals which she said had been made without her knowledge.

There had been 28 cash withdrawals, most of them late at night or in the early hours of the morning, the judge observed, for a total of £13,600.

Benjamin Watts outside court.

Asked whether she had given anyone else, and specifically Watts, authority to make those withdrawals, she replied: “No.”

The pensioner was asked whether Watts had repaid any of the money, and she answered: “As far as I can remember, £150.”

Mr Bright said: “Is there any truth that he was allowed by you to withdraw money from your account whenever he wanted?”

She said: “No, it’s not true.”

Jeremy Hawthorn, defending, put to her: “It is his contention you were allowing him to use the card. I suggest around about £4,000 is the sum he gave back to you in dribs and drabs.”

Again she replied: “Absolutely not.”

Giving evidence, Watts said: “She told me to use that money whenever I wanted for equipment and so-on. She let me use her card. Every time I used the bank card I told her about it.”

He said the jobs he was doing would be paid for in cash, and that he would then pay back the pensioner in cash.

“It was about £4,400 I’d paid her. It was written in a book she had for doing my accounts,” he said.

But rejecting Watts’s basis of plea, Judge Lockhart said he did not have permission to use the card.

He said: “She had lent £7,800 to him in order that he might buy a van.

“She then discovered several transactions without her knowledge. She says ‘he never gave me £4,400 back.’

“I can only make a finding against Mr Watts if I am sure she is right. There is no doubt he took certain of the funds, the issue is whether it is as much as the Crown allege.

“I find I am absolutely sure the Crown are right, that her evidence is truthful and reliable, and that he never had her permission to use this card.

“I reject the basis of plea. I am sure that the amount he stole was £13,600."