A document presented to a legal executive as the last will and testament of Gillian Williams by her daughter and son-in-law had her signature ‘obviously cut and pasted’ into the document, a Gloucester jury heard today.
Brian and Julie Fairs, 76 and 57 years old respectively, of Abbotswood Road, Gloucester, have denied forgery between December 1, 2016 and May 25, 2017, by creating a document purporting to be Mrs Williams’ will.
They have also both denied fraud on May 24, 2017, by falsely representing to Kirstie Hopton, a wills and probate executive at Dee & Griffin Solicitors, that the document was the authentic last will and testament of Mrs Williams, thereby intending to make a gain for themselves.
‘I picked up that the signature was not an ink signature’
The jury of seven women and five men at Gloucester Crown Court heard from Kirstie Hopton today.
She said that the document presented at her first meeting with Mr and Mrs Fairs was ‘unusual’.
“It was three loose pages of paper kept together in a wallet. A plastic folder in a clear front with green backing.
“They tend to be bound together,” Ms Hopton explained. “There are different methods, but they tend to be bound together so you know there are no pages missing. They cannot be tampered with, pages added.
“I was informed Mr Fairs had drafted the will himself. He told me he had.
“You do get a few homemade wills. It is not very common any more. You do tend to get professionally drafted wills now.
“Not being bound together was unusual. I picked up that the signature was not an ink signature, it looked like it had been cut and pasted into the document.
“The two witness signatures were ink, and this wasn’t.”
‘You must have the original document’
Ms Hopton said she ‘ran her finger over’ the signature of Mrs Williams which led her to that conclusion.
“You must have the original document, people do not understand the importance of that.
“You tend to run your finger over the ink,” she explained.
“He said he had taken the signature off a previous will when he completed it.
“I believed he scanned it, cut and pasted it.”
‘Mr Fairs had told Ms Hopton he had copied Mrs Williams’ signature from another will’
Prosecutor David Maunder confirmed that Mr Fairs had told Ms Hopton that he had copied Mrs Williams’ signature from another will. Ms Hopton said that was right.
Mr Maunder asked Ms Hopton for her ‘preliminary view’ of the document.
“It was invalid,” she replied. “It was a strange one. I have never had someone come in saying they had cut and pasted.”
She said after the meeting: “I inspected it further. I do not normally see wills like this. It was a bit out of the ordinary.
“The first couple of pages had staple holes put through and removed, the last did not.
“The date on the front was different to date on last page with signatures.
“The numbers of pages were in different locations on pages. In a different font and in different positions.”
Ms Hopton said she retained the document and Mr Fairs returned for a further meeting at her office.
‘Mrs Fairs was excluded from her will’
At the subsequent meeting, Mr Fairs told her there was another will held at a firm of solicitors in Cheltenham, Christopher Davidson, and provided their details.
“Mr Fairs then asked what would happen to his wife’s inheritance,” she said. “I advised they would have to follow the original will held elsewhere.”
Ms Hopton then telephoned Steven Felts, of Christopher Davidson, who also gave evidence at the trial.
Ms Hopton said: “He said they held three wills for her. They had some old wills they had retained and the last will was dated 2011.
“I was told first off that all the estate was left to her husband, but if he had died it was to the three Davies brothers, and Mrs Fairs was excluded from her will.”
Ms Hopton said Mr Felts asked her to send a copy of the document Mr and Mrs Fairs had produced to her, which she did.
‘They had cut their daughter out to avoid the son-in-law benefiting’
Mr Felts said in his evidence that he remembered Mr and Mrs Williams, who had been clients of his, as ‘you do not get many clients in their sixties in full motorcycle leathers in your office’.
“We advise clients to leave a note to explain why they have left the will as they had done.
“In this case they both left the note to explain they had cut their daughter out to avoid the son-in-law benefiting.”
Mr Felts confirmed what Ms Hopton had said about the way wills are often bound.
“In the industry it is either plastic binder or heat sealed. It keeps the pages secure.”
‘She felt that the will was a forgery’
He confirmed in June 2017 he received a telephone call from Ms Hopton.
“She felt that the will was a forgery and asked if we had an earlier will in our strongroom which we did.
“Once we established we had the will, we contacted her and asked to secure the document and asked if she was going to call the police.
“We asked if she would send us the document so we could see it.”
‘It looked liked it had been copied from another document’
The prosecutor asked him if he felt it required police intervention.
“If the will had been forged it, yes.
“It looked like it had been copied from another document.
“The signature looked like it had been cut out and pasted from another document. Copied, photocopied.
“I suspected that someone had copied the signature onto the document and then photocopied.
“Kirstie had not contacted the police and would leave that to us.
“We arranged a meeting with the executors and discussed the terms of the will. It seemed to be an attempted forgery and did they want us to contact police.
“They did. We called the police,” Mr Felts said.
‘Those three people were friends of the family’
When the case was opened, the prosecutor told the jury Mrs Williams ‘did not care very much for her son in law Brian’.
He said that alongside a previous will, she had written a letter saying: “Because my daughter Julie has no children of her own, I do not want her husband or his family to benefit from my will.”
“She made it clear to many people that she did not want Brian to benefit from her will.
“She had instructed solicitors to create a will that left her estate to three other people.”
Those three people were friends of the family, brothers Martin, Geoffrey and Paul Davies.
The will was held in the ‘physical possession’ of their father Frank Davies.
Mr Maunder alleged: “The Fairs got a copy of the will under false pretences from Frank Davies.
“Brian Fairs then used it as a template to fabricate a false will, making his wife the sole beneficiary and excluding the Davies boys completely, by photocopying her signature onto a document.”
The prosecutor alleged that one of the witnesses to the ‘will’ signed the document after Mrs Williams’ death.
Mr and Mrs Fairs told the police that at Christmas 2016, Mrs Williams had told them she wanted to change her will.
Mr Fairs said he did it under his mother-in-law’s instructions.
‘They both said that Mrs Williams wished to change her will’
They both said that Mrs Williams wished to change her will as the Davies brothers had not been to see her recently when she was ill, and had only come ‘to borrow tools’.
Mr Fairs said Mrs Williams was ‘happy’ with contents.
He told the police: “She gave him the original and he copied it, but modified it for her new intentions,” the prosecutor explained.
“He insisted he had created it with Gillian Williams’ permission but now understood it was not legally binding,” Mr Maunder said.
The barrister said the couple were arguing: “There was no intention to defraud, and all done entirely innocently.
“But we say when you look at all the evidence you can reject that suggestion,” he claimed.
The trial continues.
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