Former Manea postmistress forged ex-husband’s signature in �23,000 trust fund fraud

A FORMER village postmistress who forged her ex-husband’s signature to cash a trust fund worth more than �20,000 has been sentenced to 240 hours of community work.

Cecilia Mary Larham, Manea’s postmistress from 1985-2005 and a former lecturer at the College of West Anglia, was told she had “lost her good character” after admitting the fraud charge at Huntingdon Crown Court on Wednesday.

Judge Nicholas Coleman told her: “You’re no longer entitled to say that you’re an honest person.”

The 51-year-old pocketed �23,342.24 when she forged her 71-year-old former husband Brian Larham’s signature to cash a trust fund they had held jointly.

Duncan O’Donnell, prosecuting, said the couple had separated in 2007 but “there was never any form of divorce”.

As part of a separation agreement, Larham paid her ex-husband �150,000 to sign all the property they held jointly over to her. The court heard this property was valued “in excess of a million pounds”.

The agreement made no mention of the joint trust fund, held in Mr Larham’s name. Mr O’Donnell told the court that Mr Larham had “forgotten” that the fund existed as his ex-wife had been “trusted to run the accounts”.

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When he discovered the fund, he tried to withdraw the money but was told he had already cashed it. In fact, his ex-wife had forged his signature on a letter instructing the company to release the funds into her bank account.

Jason Stevens, mitigating, said that Larham, of School Lane, Manea, had been the “sole contributor” to the trust fund, despite the fact it was in her ex-husband’s name.

“Fraud is to make a gain and I submit that Mrs Larham has not made a gain,” said Mr Stevens. “It’s her money, her hard work that went into this fund.”

The court heard that Larham owns two properties in Manea, as well as a “parcel” of land thought to be worth �500,000. She opened the Manea School of Gardening in September 2010, which she runs with her new partner.

Sentencing Larham to an 18-month community order, with 240 hours of unpaid work, Judge Coleman said: “There was a right way and a wrong way of doing this, and you chose the wrong way.”

The judge read a statement from Mr Larham, which said: “I never wanted to get the police involved but I will not accept someone forging a signature to get at something they are not entitled to.”

Judge Coleman added: “This is your first encounter with the criminal justice system and I’m quite sure it hasn’t been a particularly attractive experience.

“You have contributed considerably to the community of Manea, not only to the band but giving talks at local schools and community events as well as service to the church. That good character has suffered.

“You had training as a post office lady and you knew of the standards that must be upheld in that operation.

“It seems to me that a community order would be a very good way of you admitting to the community that you have done something wrong and that you will repay it.

“I have read references which purport to suggest you’re an innocent victim in all of this. You are not.

“You took a conscious decision in your own mind to forge your former husband’s signature in order to get your hands on that money. It’s a deliberate act of dishonesty.”

Judge Coleman said a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing would be held in March to resolve the financial aspects of the case.