My sister took her life, petrified at facing her ex in court

Last year, Gemma Robinson, 34, took her own life just days before she was due to face her abusive ex-partner in court. Here her family speak about what led to Gemma’s death in the hope that it may help other people living in abusive relationships.

When Damian Wilson hugged his sister Gemma as he prepared to fly to Cambodia in September 2019, she broke down in tears.

Becoming emotional when her brother returned to the Southeast Asian country, where he had been living for almost five years, was nothing out of the ordinary. But then Gemma whispered something in his ear that concerned him.

“I’m really not doing okay,” she told him.

“That was the first time she’d ever done that,” Damian recalls. “I remember thinking: ‘She really means that.'”

He reassured her that he’d be back soon and told her to “hang in there”.

But that was the last time Damian saw his sister.

Growing up in London, Gemma Robinson was popular, loud and “loved being the centre of attention”.

“She had bundles of life,” Damian remembers, and was rarely happier than when on the dance floor with her friends and sister Kirsty.

“She was the life and soul of the party, we were dancing partners,” Kirsty says.

As she got older, Gemma was the person many people turned to if they had a problem, Damian recalls.

“If someone was going through a breakup or if there were issues with family, she was always there for her friends. No matter what she was going through, she always put it aside and dealt with the people that needed her,” he says.

“I think that was one of her problems. She wouldn’t focus on herself, she was always focusing on other people.”

Gemma became a mother to her son at the age of 20, and had her daughter five years later. Her family say she loved becoming a mother and found a career as a pole fitness instructor. Everything seemed to be falling into place.

But things started to unravel for her around six years ago. She became a single mother after splitting up with the father of her children, and then started experiencing severe back pain, which meant she couldn’t do the job she loved.

“When you’re in those circles and in quite a self-destructive mode… you end up surrounding yourself with people who are not the best,” Damian says.

It was around this time she met Joe Falconer.

Gemma met Falconer at a pub in Bexley, south-east London.

“We all met him individually at different times. Me, my dad and other members of the family, we were like: ‘We’re not too sure of him’. That was our first reaction,” Kirsty says. “If you were to speak to him he wouldn’t even look at you directly in the eyes.”

Damian had a similar impression: “I never liked him, but I knew she was in love with him so I tried.”

But it wasn’t long until Falconer’s behaviour started to become controlling.

“You could tell Gemma was becoming a bit withdrawn, not really being herself. You could see something wasn’t right,” Kirsty says.

He would increasingly stop her from seeing her friends, Kirsty says, and on nights out, Falconer would stare at other men and pick arguments with Gemma.

Gemma didn’t report the first time he attacked her, Kirsty says. But the second time she did.

Falconer had smashed up Gemma’s house in a jealous rage and pinned her up against a wall. She was moved into a safe house while Falconer waited for his court date.

But when the case came to court, Gemma told her family that her address was read out in front of Falconer during the hearing.

“I don’t know why they did that, it’s just ridiculous. She’s going to this safe house for a reason,” Kirsty says.

Falconer was convicted of battery and criminal damage and was given a restraining order preventing him from contacting Gemma, but he turned up at her address and persuaded her to let him in. She agreed to allow him to sleep on the sofa and he claimed he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Around a month later he attacked Gemma again.

Gemma had been at a friend’s house and had decided to stay the night as her children were with her parents. Falconer started sending abusive messages, accusing her of being with another man.

He called and texted her more than 70 times over the night, before apologising, making Gemma believe it was safe to return home in the morning.

As she opened the front door and walked up the stairs, Falconer jumped out at her and waged a brutal attack.

“He grabbed her left arm, dragged her into the bathroom and pushed her into the shower cubicle,” Prosecutor Vivian Walters read in court.

He pushed into her neck making it difficult for her to breathe and punched her repeatedly in the face, the prosecutor added.

After he left Gemma managed to make it to her living room where she was spotted by a neighbour, who called an ambulance.

Falconer was arrested three days later.

After leaving hospital, Gemma went to live with Kirsty while she recovered from a fractured eye socket. But Kirsty says her sister was never the same again.

“From that morning he attacked her, she was a completely different person. I just saw my sister become a complete shell of herself. She was just petrified,” Kirsty says.

“She was crying at night, I’d have to go in and cuddle her. She was so nervous. Any loud noise she would jump, any loud noise of a man’s voice, she’d jump.”

Gemma was then moved to another safe house.

Soon after she started receiving Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (IDVA) support from a Kent-based company called Choices. Kirsty says Gemma was upset when she was told the phone calls were to end.

“That really upsets me because I just feel like maybe we might not be here if she had that support, because she needed it,” Kirsty says.

Choices told the BBC they could not comment while a “domestic homicide review” is conducted.

Things started to spiral for Gemma as the country went into lockdown. She started to drink heavily in an effort to numb the pain and was suffering from nightmares of the attack.

In July, Gemma took her own life at the age of 34. She had been due to face Falconer in court a few days later.

Damian, who was in Cambodia, received a call from his mother.

“That was just heart-wrenching. I got the next flight out,” he says.

“I know she had decided she couldn’t see any way of life being happy. Especially being such a devoted mum, even the thought of leaving her kids wasn’t enough to make her stay with us. I think she’d had years and years of torture … and I think Joe maybe tipped her over the edge,” he says.

“I only found this out after Gemma had died – she had told Kirsty and her best friend that she still loved him,” Damian says.

“When you love someone that much, the pain you feel, it’s like nothing you’ve ever felt. Add on top of that the fact this person you love beat the crap out of you and abused you mentally, and then you’re going to have to face them in court to put them in prison, that’s got to mess anyone up.”

Lucy Hadley, head of campaigns and policy at charity Women’s Aid, says around 30 women take their own life every week, many of whom have experienced domestic violence.

“The level of fear it takes to report domestic abuse and then to pursue someone you loved and trusted, who had that level of control over you for years or decades, and to take them to court, is a huge thing,” she says.

“Without the right support, without specialist domestic abuse support throughout that process, it’s a really terrifying and difficult experience and can expose them to more risk, as in this case.”

“Far too often, for far too many victims, the support isn’t there.”

The family’s grief was compounded by Falconer’s sentencing in February.

He denied inflicting grievous bodily harm (GBH) with intent and pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of inflicting grievous bodily harm and criminal damage.

He was jailed for three years and four months, but was recently released on tag due to time spent on remand. Kirsty said she was “completely devastated” when she learned of his release.

“It just makes people think it’s okay to do this if they’re giving away such light sentences,” Kirsty says.

Damian hopes Gemma’s story will reach other victims of domestic abuse.

“I imagine Gemma reading her own story and recognising she’s in that same situation … maybe that changes her mind. Maybe she goes: ‘There are avenues of help,'” he says.

“If anyone is in the same situation as Gemma, maybe they can find some solidarity and find a positive future.

“One person would be enough. It’d be worth it.”

If you, or someone you know, has been affected by domestic abuse or violence you can contact the BBC Actionline for information and support.

George Floyd tweet apology from Welsh Labour minister

A government minister has apologised for criticising media coverage of the George Floyd murder trial verdict.

Welsh Labour minister Lee Waters had said that Wales would have “a better election campaign” if it was given the same attention as “US domestic news”.

Ex-police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering Mr Floyd after kneeling on his neck during his arrest in Minneapolis last May.

The incident sparked worldwide protests against racism and excessive force.

Mr Waters, a deputy minister for transport in the Welsh government, posted his comments on Twitter while watching BBC television’s Ten O’Clock News, which was covering the jury’s verdict live on Tuesday night.

He wrote: “If people in Wales had access to as much media coverage of decisions that effected Wales as they do of US domestic news we’d have a better election campaign.”

Elections to the Welsh Parliament are taking place on 6 May.

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Mr Waters later deleted the post, saying: “On reflection, insensitive timing. Not detracting from the enormity of the issue, just frustrated that News at 10 turned itself into News24.”

The minister’s original comments had been criticised as “rancid”, “horrific” and “ignorant” by other users of the social media platform.

Shane Andrews from Cardiff said: “I think you should delete this Lee. Poorly timed electioneering and the decisions across the pond send a message to many across the world – that Black Lives Matter.”

Reaction from other political parties was also critical of the Welsh Labour minister.

A Plaid Cymru spokesperson said: “Lee Waters’ tweet was highly inappropriate, ill-judged and thoughtless.

“The murder of George Floyd and the subsequent trial is of worldwide significance and a potent reminder that so much more needs to be done to tackle structural and institutional racism – including here in Wales.”

For the Welsh Liberal Democrats, a spokesperson said: “To make the comparison between the death of an individual at the hands of the police and his opinion of political coverage in Wales is both foolish and exceptionally poor judgment. We’re glad to see he’s deleted his tweet.”

Welsh Labour did not directly respond to criticism of Mr Waters’s tweet, but pointed to comments on the verdict by party leader Mark Drakeford, who said: “We in Wales have felt for George Floyd’s family and black people over this last year.

“With accountability must now come peace and new resolve from us all to end structural racism.”

Online dating: In 2021 everyone is a kind-of catfish

It was back in 2010 when the word “catfish” took on a new meaning – someone who uses a fake identity online to target specific victims.

The phrase came from documentary maker Nev Schulman, who fell in love with a 19-year-old girl online, only to find out she was actually a housewife using fake photos and a false story to chat to others online.

Nev turned his story into an incredibly successful documentary and reality TV show, which after eight seasons in the US, is now getting a UK version.

It’s hosted by radio presenter Julie Adenuga and journalist Oobah Butler – and they say catfishing is now a completely different beast in 2021.

“Catfishing is not always talking to someone, they show up and you find out it’s your uncle,” Oobah tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

“Now, some people will never have a photo taken of them without a specific filter on, or they’ve become very comfortable with manipulating the way they look”.

He says that “everyone is kind of a catfish” as photo editing is so common that people often don’t look like their Instagram profile in real life – creating a distance between their online persona and who they really are.

“Even before we started shooting Catfish, I had deep trust issues in general,” Julie says.

“The show has definitely made that grow a lot more – my trust for the internet has gone through the floor!”

Oobah and Julie both grew up watching the original Catfish show and wondered how it would translate to a UK audience.

“The biggest thing has been the actual stories – we’ve never had two the same,” Julie says.

“All of them have been so convoluted and confusing, Oobah and I have left at the end of the shoot days thinking ‘what is going on?'”

They did all the investigative journalism themselves and Julie calls Oobah a “blonde James Bond”.

“Catfishes are so sophisticated right now,” Oobah says.

“People completely suspend their suspicions now because they’ve spoken to someone or think they’ve had a video call – the fact that can be manipulated for me was a big moment.”

Catfish UK features everything from deep-fakes to romance fraud, with some cases so complicated that they needed help from the man who started the franchise.

“Nev is part of this journey,” Oobah says.

“He appears in the series because there are things that we encounter he’d never seen either – we needed his help.”

Julie says she’s found the experience of making the show “heart-breaking”.

“Everybody wants to be in love, everybody wants to get the good morning text message and feel like someone’s thinking of them when they’re at work”.

She says the show has taught her to trust her instincts a lot more.

“If it feels too good to be true then it probably is. We say all the time to trust your gut and I think a lot of people, for whatever reason, when they’re behind that screen, had a bad day or aren’t feeling good about themselves, they let that trust go.”

Julie says the show is coming out at the perfect time, as many single people have been forced to date online over the last year.

“I ended up on a dating site for the first time in my entire life last year and it felt so surreal – I’m a grown 30-something-year-old woman,” she says.

“It can be a wonderful place where you do meet the love of your life but there is that other side and our job is to show people what the other side looks like.”

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The Owners: We were immersed in the movie – it was traumatising

Spending two weeks in an isolated barn on Dartmoor watching scenes from a horror movie isn’t the type of work that would appeal to everyone, is it?

Even less so when it also involves trying to make the most terrifying noises possible come out of the instruments around you.

But, while the band Never Not Nothing have had support from Annie Mac on Radio 1 and worked on tracks with Idles and The Prodigy, they’d never scored a Hollywood movie before.

So when they were asked to make the music for The Owners, starring Masie Williams, they knew they had to do something a bit different.

“We like to do a thing we call method music, where we try and put ourselves in the most extreme environment possible,” Space, from the band, tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

“The whole movie is set in a house in the middle of nowhere, and since we only had two and a half weeks to get the soundtrack done, we went away to our own house in the middle of nowhere.

“We had string players come and visit for the odd day, but mostly it was just the two of us and we’d work eight in the morning until two in the morning every single day.

“We wrote most of it to picture, so we had the movie playing all the time. We just got lost in it.”

The experience was, apparently, “nicely traumatising” – and that’s a pretty fitting description for the soundtrack they ended up with, too.

Think distorted strings, white noise and huge, pounding, drum hits.

“We recorded everything super close, and you could hear the bow on the strings and stuff,” Space explains, “and then we chucked it on a tape player and messed around with it.

“So, in a human and very physical way, it was badly played – and we ended up with loads of weird random effects that you couldn’t get from programming something into a computer.”

A full length horror movie is a long way from what Never Not Nothing are known for.

Whether it’s their own music, or the two Idles albums they produced, most of the stuff they’ve worked on so far has been “short form songs with verses and choruses”.

But, Space says, it was “liberating” to go beyond that.

“It was great to develop ideas slowly and sometimes be more textural, other times more melodic – it kind of allowed us to be more extreme.”

There were some downsides, though.

“I think the producers were a little bit scared because we’re a band and they weren’t sure if we could actually do it,” Space says.

“So we had to we had to jump through a few hoops to get the job but once we showed what we could do they were really excited.”

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Endometriosis: Young woman pleading for hysterectomy

A 23-year-old woman who begged doctors to remove her womb to relieve chronic pain says the surgery is being refused due to her age and childless status.

Hannah Lockhart has endometriosis, a condition that can cause debilitating pain, heavy periods and infertility.

Although she has always wanted her own children, Hannah says her daily pain is now so severe she wants a hysterectomy.

“It’s heartbreaking that just because I’m so young I have to keep suffering,” she told the BBC’s Evening Extra.

Ms Lockhart, from Bangor in County Down, has been in hospital seven times in the past year because of crippling pain from endometriosis.

“Every single day I’m taking morphine, I’m taking different tablets for nerves to try and stop the pain and nothing works,” she said.

The condition occurs when bodily tissue similar to the lining of the womb starts to grow in other parts of the body.

Ms Lockhart’s problems began in her early teens. By the end of last year she was having difficulty walking and had to use a wheelchair just to be able to leave her house.

“This is far, far more than a sore, heavy period every month – it has damaged several different areas of my body now,” she said.

Complications from the disease mean she needs a urinary catheter to go to the toilet and, after emergency surgery last summer, she is already going through the menopause.

“Endometriosis affects a lot more than just your ovaries and your womb,” she said.

“Mine has spread to my bowel, it’s right through to my back and it has also completely damaged my bladder to the point that I can no longer use the bathroom myself.”

Ms Lockhart is engaged to be married and she and her husband-to-be had been looking forward to starting a family in a few years’ time.

However, the severity of her recent symptoms led to Hannah “pleading” with doctors for a hysterectomy.

“Last June after I had the surgery, I was put into early menopause so that’s something that I’ve been going through… and I will go through for at least another year now.

“Being in menopause at 23 – it’s not very nice at all.

“I have to take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) every day to try and calm down my symptoms that come with it.”

At first she found the prospect of infertility more of a struggle than coping with her physical pain, but the couple have since made inquiries about adoption.

“I don’t think I will ever get over the fact that I won’t have my own children naturally – that’s hard to come to terms with.

“But at the end of the day I know that it’s not giving birth to a child that makes you a mum – it’s the love and the life that you provide for that child that makes you a mother.

“So I hold on to that and the hope that some day I’ll be able to give that child a loving home.”

Ms Lockhart’s father, Peter, agrees with her belief that doctors’ reluctance to perform a hysterectomy is due to her young age and the fact she is childless.

“Had she been an older woman who already had children, not a problem – they can deal with it in a more aggressive manner,” he said.

He said it was “very, very difficult” to witness his daughter in such pain and has called on medics to treat her as an individual, rather than making decisions solely based on her age.

“How I see it is: If I’m in this much pain, what use am I to any child as a mother?” said Ms Lockhart.

“I couldn’t pick my child up, I couldn’t do what a mother is supposed to do.

“So I need them to do whatever it takes to make me better in order for me to be able to be a mother to a child in later years.”

BBC News NI has contacted Ms Lockhart’s health trust for a response to the issues she raised.

Prince Philip tributes: I wanted my grandchildren to remember this day

As well-wishers continue to pay tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh following his death, people from all generations have come to Windsor to honour his memory.

Six-year-old Sherlock Hudson-Yearsley is wearing military uniform for the occasion – passed down from his father, who used to wear it as a child watching the annual Trooping the Colour parade.

His grandmother Anne Yearsley, from Waltham St Lawrence in Berkshire, remembers leaving flowers outside Windsor Castle when Diana, Princess of Wales, died in 1997 and wanted her grandchildren – Sherlock and his 10-year-old sister Cordelia – to have a similar memory.

This time she hasn’t brought flowers, after hearing the Royal Family had asked for people to instead consider making charity donations in memory of the duke, but the family still wanted to pay their respects.

Anne, 82, has followed the Queen and Prince Philip’s lives since they married in 1947.

“He was a great support to the Queen and she obviously adored him,” she says. “He did so much good in his life.”

The children have been learning about Prince Philip’s achievements from the news coverage since his death on Friday, and Cordelia is now excited to do the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award when she’s older.

“I didn’t really know much about him before apart from that he was husband of the Queen,” she says. “I didn’t know he did all these amazing things.”

Chi Kemp will also remember Prince Philip for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which all three of her children completed.

She has come to Windsor from Ashford in Surrey, with her husband, David, 70, and friend Elaine Ward, 59.

“It was a very good way of looking at a person holistically, not just academically – developing communication and leadership skills,” the 57-year-old says.

Elaine’s 14-year-old twin godchildren also completed the award, which involves volunteering, a physical challenge, developing a skill and taking part in an expedition.

“He’s left such a big legacy,” she adds.

Elaine was in Windsor three years ago for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s wedding. “It was such a happy occasion,” she says.

Crowds lined the Long Walk and spilled into the town, waving union jacks as Harry and Meghan rode past in their carriage in the sunshine.

Today, the crowds are far sparser and socially distant, with the public asked to stay away because of the pandemic. But a steady stream of visitors still arrive throughout the day. While the hundreds of bouquets that were left on Friday were taken inside the grounds of the castle overnight, more bunches have since replaced them.

In May 2018, the Two Brewers pub, just off the Long Walk, was decorated with bunting and pictures to celebrate the royal couple’s marriage.

Now it carries pictures of the Duke of Edinburgh in a tribute to the man who used to drive past in his carriage several times a week.

“He would drive past with his grooms, no security, and would always say good morning,” recalls the pub’s manager Stuart O’Brien. “He would always say the flowers were looking nice.”

The 42-year-old says the duke was hugely important to the town.

“I think a lot of people realise what he’s done for Windsor and as ranger of the Great Park to make it an amazing place to visit,” he says. “It was one of his big passions.”

The pub had already planned a sold-out event to mark what would have been his 100th birthday on 10 June.

It will now become a day to pay tribute, with punters raising a glass every hour to remember his life.

Speaking to those who have come to pay their respects, the duke’s commitment to his country and the Queen is a theme that comes up again and again.

Paul Taylor’s dad is a retired lieutenant colonel, who received an MBE at Buckingham Palace in the 1970s and met Prince Philip himself as part of his role.

He felt it was his “duty” to lay flowers on behalf of his parents, who did the same when the Queen Mother died in 2002 but are too old to do so now.

“My parents would be proud of me doing this,” the 62-year-old, from Richmond, south-west London, adds.

“My dad served his country,” he says. “And Prince Philip represents duty to service, the Queen and the country.”

The duke’s sense of duty is also important to Qusai Arsiwala, 37, who brought his children – six-year-old Mariya and four-year-old Ruqaiya – to lay flowers.

The family live nearby in Iver and Qusai works as a doctor at Wexham Park Hospital in Slough. Going to school locally he says he “grew up seeing the monarchy” and is “proud to be British”.

“Prince Philip and the Queen represent sacrifice, duty and most of all respect and I think that’s really important for our children to understand,” he says.

“They are examples of people that go above and beyond,” he adds. “I hope we don’t lose that respect and the sense of duty.”

Sally Davis, 48 and from Shepperton, Surrey, says the duke will be “greatly missed” and also wanted her sons – 10-year-old Ryan and eight-year-old James – to remember “a dignified, loyal man”.

“His is a generation that’s disappearing. We liked his cheeky sense of humour,” she laughs.

“I don’t think we’ll see another quite like him.”

Jennie Bond: He often had a twinkle in his eyes

Former BBC royal correspondent Jennie Bond said Prince Philip was a “complex” and “often misunderstood” character.

The Duke of Edinburgh “could be blunt and rude and politically very, very incorrect, we all know that”, she said.

“Occasionally he came out with a real clanger, but mostly he was just trying to be pleasant and light-hearted,” she added in a BBC Radio Devon interview.

Ms Bond said the duke, who died on 9 April, often had a “twinkle” in his eyes which she “enjoyed”.

The duke’s “very complex character” was “created perhaps by a very difficult upbringing”, said Ms Bond, who lives in south Devon.

“He said himself once, ‘My grandfather was assassinated, my father was sent into exile, my mother went to a sanatorium and my sister was killed in a plane crash – what do you expect me to have turned out like?’

“And perhaps what we perceived as over-confidence was actually the opposite.

“Sometimes it works that way.”

Ms Bond, a BBC royal correspondent for 14 years, said the duke “was never very keen on journalists” who he felt did not understand his “sense of fun”.

But at one of their meetings she complimented him on his healthy looks.

“He said, ‘You’re not looking so bad yourself.’

“I enjoyed the twinkle in his eyes.”

The Dukes of Cambridge and Sussex have paid tribute to their grandfather in separate statements.

Prince William has described the duke as an “extraordinary man”, while Prince Harry said he was “a man of service, honour and great humour” and the “legend of banter”.

Ms Bond said: “Harry said he charmed everyone in the room.

“And I like the fact that his children have been speaking so personally, which isn’t something you often get from the Royal Family.”

The duke was someone who they could approach with any difficulties, she said.

“Most people think of him as this kind of action man – tough, impatient, blunt, but he could be a very thoughtful, calm and kind parent when required.”

Banbury couple starved millionaire to death to steal his fortune

A couple starved their vulnerable landlord to death to inherit part of his £3.5m estate, a court has heard.

Anthony Sootheran’s body was found at his home near South Newington, Oxfordshire, in March 2014.

The 59-year-old “recluse” relied for care on Lynda Rickard, 62, who killed him to satisfy her “brazen greed”, prosecutors said.

She and her husband Wayne Rickard, 66, both from Oxfordshire, deny a charge of murder at Reading Crown Court.

Mrs Rickard also denies gross negligence manslaughter while her husband denies causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable adult.

Oliver Saxby QC, prosecuting, said Mrs Rickard “ruthlessly exploited” Mr Sootheran and his mother, Joy Sootheran, who died in 2012.

He said the defendant admitted forging their wills and using tens of thousands of pounds of their money as her own.

The barrister said half of Ms Sootheran’s £1.5m fortune was stopped from going to Mrs Rickard after people “smelt a rat” over her will.

He said Mrs Rickard then “isolated, utterly neglected and controlled [her son]… ultimately by depriving him of food and drink”.

He continued: “Assisted by her husband, Lynda Rickard starved Anthony Sootheran to death, thereby satisfying her greed and securing… the windfall she craved.”

Mr Saxby said Mr Sootheran was found dead by a visiting doctor on 18 March 2014 at High Havens Farm, where he lived with the Rickards who were his tenants.

His forged will gave Mrs Rickard the farm and a third of his estate, the prosecutor said.

Three of Mrs Rickard’s friends became “embroiled in her dishonesty”, Mr Saxby added.

Shanda Robinson, 51, Denise Neal, 41 and Michael Dunkley, 49, all from the Banbury area, deny fraudulently signing wills knowing that they were forged.

Mr Rickard denies a charge of perverting the course of justice by attempting to pass off a will as genuine while Ms Robinson denies conspiring to do the same.

The Rickards also deny a charge of fraudulently using Ms Sootheran’s money to buy a Mitsubishi Shogun car, the court heard.

A sixth accused person, June Alsford, 78, has pleaded guilty to fraudulently signing a will and trying to pass it off as genuine, the court heard.

The trial continues.