The widow of a war hero who masqueraded as a 91-year-old churchgoer to carry out a systematic £14,000 fraud, has walked free from court.
To her family and friends Nicola Marlton-Thomas was a keen hockey player with a busy social and business life helping her to get over the loss of her husband Loren who died while serving in Afghanistan.
But Blackpool magistrates heard how the 34-year-old also had a criminal persona – that of elderly Eunice Lees.
As Mrs Lees she raided two bank accounts removing £14,036 illegally and had a “wish list” plan to spend £33,000 more.
The money went on clothes,airline tickets and paying off credit card bills, prosecutors said.
Marlton-Thomas admitted fraud by taking the identity of another person.
She was sentenced by District Judge James Prowze to three months in prison, suspended for a year. She was also ordered to do 150 hours unpaid work for the community.
Marlton-Thomas found letters from the Royal Bank of Scotland addressed to Mrs Lees – the former owner of the house Marlton-Thomas bought for £175,000.
The widow had died two years earlier and Marlton-Thomas made inquiries which led her to believe Mrs Lees had no living relatives.
She then got a copy of Mrs Lees’ birth certificate and, with information from the bank letters, started to access the accounts which contained a total of £35,000.
Jane Yates, prosecuting, said the defendant told police she felt the money did not belong to anyone and had been tempted.
She also successfully applied for debit and credit card in the name of Mrs Lees.
She did this despite having a personal income of £3,200 a month from flats rentals and her war widows pension.
Ian Cooper,defending, said his client could pay the money back. It will be paid to Mrs Lees’ estate after Marlton-Thomas raised funds through equity in her home.
He went on: “This is a woman whose crime was committed in exceptional circumstances.
“There were certain financial pressure but she was not in dire straits.
“It was a crime which would always come to light. How many 91-year-old women go round buying camping gear ?
“She now appreciates the crime was not victimless and has learned her lesson from this tragic episode which happened after her husband was killed on active service and her father also died.”
Marlton-Thomas started a fancy dress business from her home in Alder Grove,Lytham,using stock bought with the stolen money.
Eventually the bank became suspicious and informed police.
Officers turned up at her home and asked to speak to Eunice Lees.
Marlton-Thomas told them: “She’s dead... I think I know what this is about.”
Cpl Loren Marlton-Thomas, 28, was a member of the 33rd Engineers when he was killed on what would have been his last tour of duty in Afghanistan.
He was given a full military funeral in Lytham – the same day his wife was awarded the Elizabeth Cross in his memory.
The money which she had repaid will go to the Queen as there are no living relatives of Mrs Lees. The Queen receives the money through her title of Duke of Lancaster.