Jail for former Durham police officer who forged father's will to cut niece out of estate (From The Northern Echo)
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Jail for former Durham police officer who forged father's will to cut niece out of estate
A FANTASIST policeman who forged his late father's will and prevented a young relative receiving thousands was last night behind bars.
Teesside Crown Court heard how Darren Hart's deceit cut his niece out of the estate.
The forged document left the entire estate - at one point worth more than £120,000 - to Hart's new wife, Alison.
Hart - described by former colleagues as a Walter Mitty character - was yesterday jailed for eight months for fraud.
The 41-year-old collected everything left by his father, Ronald, by having a note he had written witnessed by Peter Atkinson.
Hart's new wife Alison Hope-Hart also signed the seemingly official document and was arrested and questioned, but was never charged.
Darren Hart with wife Alison on their wedding day
The forgery two years ago left 24-year-old Cherelle Hart - his late brother Stephen's only daughter - with nothing.
Last night, devastated Miss Hart told The Northern Echo how she had been left her "heartbroken, betrayed and disgusted."
She said: "I was always very close to Darren, and it's just impossible to believe he would do something like this to me."
The Echo has discovered how Hart:
* spent some of the will money on a lavish hotel wedding;
* seemingly stopped speaking to his niece after she was cut out of the inheritance;
* rented a 1,000-a-month five-bedroom house in Darlington;
* apparently travelled the world after picking up money from the estate.
Hart was a police officer in Darlington at the time of the fraud in 2011, but left Durham Constabulary before it emerged.
He had been a soldier before joining the police, and boasted about being in the special forces - even though he never was.
One former colleague said: "You simply couldn't believe lots of what he told you."
Miss Hart added: "He lives in his own fantasy world."
Mr Hart snr had not made a will, which meant everything should have been split between his two sons or any surviving relatives.
As his other son had died when Miss Hart was eight, she would have been entitled to half of the remaining £43,350.
The court heard how Hart "did not intend" to deprive his niece as he was not aware she was or may have been a beneficiary.
His barrister, Ian Mullarkey, said he had been under great stress and was going through a bitter divorce at the time.
Judge Peter Bowers told Hart: "The court will jealously guard the sanctity of probate and the court process.
"Being a police officer places an additional responsibility on you not only to uphold the law, but to be beyond reproach."
On his Facebook page, Hart boasts of travelling to far-flung places after getting his hands on his father's money. In the past two years, he says he has been to Malta, Africa, Germany, Norway, Italy, France, South America and Belgium.
Friend Peter Atkinson, who witnessed the bogus document, was said by his lawyer to have been "naive" when he agreed to sign it.
Dan Cordey, mitigating, said when he later realised the enormity of what he had done, he went to the police to confess.
Hart, of High Green, Darlington, and Atkinson, of The Mill, Mickleton, near Barnard Castle, County Durham, admitted fraud.
Atkinson's barrister, Mr Cordey, said the 27-year-old - given a five-month jail sentence, suspended for a year - was a trusting man who made a mistake.
Mr Mullarkey said Hart joined the army after leaving school and later worked for three years as a close protection officer for Harrods.
He said he then got a civilian job with Cleveland Police before moving to the Durham force - from which he resigned after his fraud.
"He is remorseful about what he has done," said the barrister. "It was a lone aberration notwithstanding his exemplary record."
He said Hart's sole intention was to prevent his ex-wife Maggie getting her hands on any of his father's money.
His father wrote a note excluding her from his estate, but he died before it could be witnessed and signed.