The 'Walter Mitty' lies of Helen Hart that added up to a false fortune
THE CASE of Helen Hart – a Walter Mitty character living a fantasy millionaire lifestyle – is one of the most unusual investigations to land on Detective Constable Nick Stidwill's desk.
Hart was a company secretary living a lie, using forged documents to dupe people into thinking she was a multi-millionaire.
Detective Constable Stidwill, a CID officer at Truro on the verge of retiring after 29 years, first came across Hart following a complaint by her employer, PDP Green Consultants Ltd of Truro, in August 2011.
Months of painstaking investigations trawling through six years' worth of company accounts revealed a web of deceit by a woman who used stolen company cheques to fund her lavish lifestyle.
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She purchased luxury cars, premiership football tickets and even chartered a private jet to Paris and Cardiff.
Detective Constable Stidwill described her as a "fantasist" who had shown no remorse for the stress and anguish her pilfered plush lifestyle had caused.
Her striking blonde looks belied her 45 years, along with her expensive taste in clothes and cars, including a Porsche Boxster and 4x4 BMW X5 and a silver Mercedes CLS Saloon 350 Cdi worth £46,500.
But the fraudster was in fact earning about £20,000 a year and renting a modest bungalow with her husband, Robert, on Alexandra Road Illogan near Camborne. She grew up in Illogan and joined Philip Desmonde Partnership (PDP) as an administrator in 2000 after a brief spell with the firm in 1994.
The company merged with Barlow Schofield, whose principal partner was Roger Green, creating PDP Green Consultants Ltd in 2004.
In 2009 Hart became its office manager and 12 months later was promoted to company secretary.
"A pattern quickly emerged," said Detective Constable Stidwill, "she drove luxury cars and dressed well giving the appearance of having money, all based on a fantasy that she had inherited enormous wealth, but the reality was PDP Green was funding it."
Hart claimed to be a company director and used forged documents showing she was to inherit an astonishing amount of money – but they were a ruse to convince people of her supposed wealth and cover up her scam.
One forged court order stamped with a Penzance County Court mark appeared to give Lloyds Bank in Truro permission to release £86 million to Hart.
Another forged letter purporting to be from the High Court of Justice, Queen's Bench Division, stated Hart was not to remove assets worth £90 million belonging to her husband.
In March 2007 she ran up a hotel bill of £8,000 at Bovey Castle, a luxury hotel and golf course in Dartmoor National Park, where rooms cost up to £689 a night.
Detective Constable Stidwill said that during her stay she seemed to revel in her millionaire persona. "While she was there she ran up huge debts and duped managers into thinking that she wanted to buy a lodge worth £1 million. You can't believe anything that she says. She uses forged paperwork to prove her supposed wealth. Her dishonesty is that rife."
Her greed also led her to use the firm's money to pay her £600 rent per month over four years, adding up to £18,000. She spent £64,500 on cars and £26,000 refurbishing her rented home.
She used Facebook and several gyms, including Morgan's Health Club, near Truro, to meet younger men who were taken in by her apparent wealth, said Detective Constable Stidwill.
"She took them on trips to the Dorchester Hotel in London's Mayfair and bought them presents in Harrods, all on company money."
The biggest question is how a woman with no specialist accounting background was able to cover her tracks at the architect and engineering business for so long.
"She was a trusted member of staff; the books had been kept efficiently until it became impossible for her to cover it up and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) came calling.
"A lot of small firms are so busy they focus on getting the work done and rely on a good book-keeping system. There's a certain level of trust.
"No alarm bells had been raised; they were lulled into a false sense of security. I've seen it a number of times with businesses."
It was unpaid taxes that raised the suspicions of bosses who reported Hart to the police, finally calling an halt to her deceit.
"It had a substantial effect on the firm, which faced a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) to pay off its debts, with the prospect of losing 20 jobs and a very profitable business going to the wall. They're surviving, and want this whole affair to go away. It's taken an emotional toll on the directors and their livelihoods, their reputations, put on the line, caused by the greed of one woman. "
Monday's hearing at Truro Crown Court, where Hart finally admitted swindling her bosses, was the end of the road for the fantasist, but also the culmination of 12 months' painstaking police work by Detective Constable Stidwill.
Having previously denied some charges, she pleaded guilty on the morning a complex six-day trial was due to begin, showing no emotion as she did so.
Having spent months poring over accounts and cross-referencing them with company cheques she had written to reveal the extent of her fraud, he was glad that the whole affair was finally over.
He said: "I am pleased that Mrs Hart has finally chosen to plead guilty and negate the need for a trial, concluding what has been a long and involved investigation and allowing the company she stole from to move forward after an extremely difficult time and try to rebuild from the damage that she caused."
Hart, who will be sentenced at Truro Crown Court on March 1, has been told she is facing a lengthy jail term.