Five years' jail for carer who stole £117,000 from Leon Brittan's brother

Five years' jail for carer who stole 117,000 from Leon Brittan's brother
Five years' jail for carer who stole 117,000 from Leon Brittan's brother

A conwoman who swindled £117,000 from the vulnerable brother of former home secretary Leon Brittan has been jailed for more than five years.

Michelle Brathwaite, 48, posed as a carer to plunder the savings of 85-year-old author Sir Samuel Brittan, splashing out on foreign holidays, beauty treatments and designer clothes on his American Express card.

She falsely claimed to be a Cambridge law graduate to gain the trust of his widowed sister-in-law Lady Diana Brittan, who held power of attorney over his financial affairs, before making hundreds of purchases and transfers to fund her lifestyle.

Brathwaite lied to police, then feigned illness in a bid to be treated leniently by the criminal justice system, Southwark Crown Court was told.

She pleaded guilty to three charges of fraud and one of theft between August 2016 and April 2017 on the second day of her trial in December after a video-link was set up in her flat because she claimed she was too unwell to attend court.

Brathwaite, from Kensington, was brought to court in an ambulance on Thursday, costing the taxpayer £650, after Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith ordered her arrest when she failed to turn up to be sentenced the previous day.

The judge said she was continuing the "charade" when she refused to leave her cell on Thursday, adding: "It is the behaviour I have seen for the last few months in her attempts to avoid responsibility to her crimes."

Sentencing her to five years and eight months imprisonment, he said: "The prosecution have quite rightly described this as 'a cynical and sustained fraud against a vulnerable victim'.

"Over a period of seven months Ms Braithwaite, whilst posing as a carer, manipulated Sir Samuel Brittan's life by pretending to him and his family that she had his best interests at heart.

"In truth, she is an extraordinarily dishonest and deceitful woman, whose only intention was to steal his money and enjoy it, and that is exactly what she did.

"She insinuated herself into the family circle, became - in the words of the indictment - 'a trusted friend and helper' and then proceeded fraudulently to obtain about £117,000, which she spent on foreign holidays, designer clothes and other items."

Sir Samuel who suffers from Alzheimer's, is the brother of late Tory grandee Lord Leon Brittan, who served as a minister under Margaret Thatcher.

The judge said he had "bravely" attended court in a wheelchair to look around ahead of giving evidence, but wasn't required following Brathwaite's guilty plea.

Hector Maclean-Watt, defending, said his client lives in a one-bedroom flat in a council estate "in no great squalor, but in no great wealth either".

He added: "At its essence, it is a fraud and a theft that allowed her to live out something of a fantasy existence to spend money on, normally, frivolities."