By Devon & Cornwall Police: Three people have been convicted in connection to a forged will that saw the all reference to the charity Christian Aid removed, and significantly reduced the legacies of the original recipients.
On Thursday 17 May, William “Hedley” Venning, Sally Jane Clarke and Stephen Shaun Martin were all found guilty at Truro Crown Court with a unanimous verdict.
Hedley Venning, aged 55 from Boscastle was convicted of conspiracy to make a false instrument namely a will intending it to be accepted as genuine, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, fraud by false representation and money laundering.
Sally Clarke aged 57 from Cobham, Surrey and Stephen Martin aged 52 from Boscastle were also convicted of conspiracy to make a false instrument and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
All three were sentenced at Truro Crown Court on Thursday 7 June.
Hedley Venning was sentenced to five and a half years in jail. Both Clarke and Martin received two-year sentences, suspended for two years, plus substantial unpaid work sentences and fines.
The case related to the death of Mr Venning’s uncle, Peter Ascott, who died in 2012. Mr Ascott had written his last will in the presence of his long-term solicitor in 2010 leaving the bulk of his estate to the charity Christian Aid.
The day after Peter Ascott died Hedley Venning produced a forged will he claimed had been signed by Mr Ascott two months earlier leaving the bulk of his estate to Mr Venning.
This new will had been witnessed by Sally Clarke and Stephen Martin who stated that they had been present in Mr Ascott’s house and witnessed him sign the document.
The new will removed all reference to Christian Aid and significantly reduced the legacies to other family members including Mr Venning’s two children. Additionally, local churches had their legacies either cut or significantly reduced.
Christian Aid challenged the authenticity of the new will and obtained statements and other supporting evidence from a number of the previous beneficiaries.
During the civil High Court process, Sally Clarke and Stephen provided sworn affidavits and witness statements detailing their presence when Mr Ascott signed the will.
In 2016 Christian Aid and Mr Venning reached a financial agreement whereby Mr Venning paid an undisclosed sum to the charity who in turn removed the caveat they had placed on the forged will.
The forged will was then submitted to the probate registry and a grant of representation issued allowing Mr Venning to benefit from the estate and leaving the previous beneficiaries with much reduced or in some cases with no legacies.
The police were notified in late 2016 and officers from the Devon and Cornwall Police Serious and Organised Crime Branch supported by the Force Support Group and officers from Surrey Police made simultaneous arrests of the three defendants in Boscastle and Cobham in February 2017.
Expert forensic evidence was subsequently obtained that showed conclusively that the 2012 will was a forgery.
Following a three week trial where all three defendants gave evidence maintaining that the will was genuine the jury concluded that the will was forged and returned guilty verdicts on all counts.