A FRAUDSTER took advantage of a young woman with a rare brain disease to withdraw thousands of pounds from her bank account.
Emily Ellwood has avoided a prison sentence after she admitted convincing vulnerable 23-year-old Anna Byron to spend around £2,500 over a 10-month period.
The 27-year-old, of Moir Court, Wantage, pleaded guilty to one count of fraud and received an eight-month suspended prison sentence on Wednesday at Oxford Crown Court.
Jane Brady, prosecuting, said the mum-of-two pretended to be a masseuse and told her victim she could win £1m by spending money on various trips and items to collect points in a competition she was running.
The barrister said Miss Byron, who suffers from a rare disorder of the nervous system called Alexander disease, which in adults mimics the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis, was put under pressure to withdraw money and take out loans.
She told Judge Gordon Risius that the fraud took place during the summer of 2012, when Ellwood and her victim made repeated trips to Barclay’s bank in Wantage.
Miss Brady said staff at the bank, who knew Miss Byron, became concerned that she seemed to be handing over sums of money to the defendant, who knew her pin number.
The barrister said their fears increased when Ellwood managed to have her victim’s mother stopped from handling the bank account, and they contacted the police.
She said Miss Byron told officers one of her friends had forced her to withdraw money and take out four loans with payday lender Wonga.com.
The cash paid for trips to theme parks Chessington World of Adventures and Drayton Manor for the pair, aftershave for Ellwood’s husband and school uniforms for her children, Miss Brady added.
She said: “Miss Byron was told by Ellwood to keep quiet about why she was spending so much and not discuss it with anyone, including her mother.”
Miss Brady added that the defendant had one caution on her record for a theft committed in 2006.
Lucy Tapper, defending, said the two women had been friends and it wasn’t fair to say her client had forced Miss Byron to withdraw or spend money.
She told Judge Risius the women became friends when Ellwood was working in a nail bar in Wantage and her victim came in as a customer. Miss Tapper said: “There was a genuine friendship between the two. It wasn’t just a matter of Miss Ellwood spotting someone and deciding to use her money for herself.”
She added that a large amount of the money withdrawn had been spent on both women but admitted there was “a degree of exploitation”.
Judge Gordon Risius told Ellwood she had preyed on a girl with a “delightful personality”.
He added: “She is particularly vulnerable to being manipulated and taken advantage of by people like you.”
Ellwood’s sentence will be suspended for two years and she must carry out 150 hours of unpaid work and pay £2,000 compensation.