COUSINS who defrauded a vulnerable man they “befriended” out of more than £20,000 to spend on drugs are both expected to be released after spending more than six months in custody.

Claire and Davina Copeland were accused of “despicable” behaviour, treating their victim as, “a soft touch”, to get their hands on his money.

Durham Crown Court was told they came up with various stories to obtain money from him, sometimes escorting him to the bank and atms to make withdrawals, pledging they would pay it back.

Claire Copeland claimed she was awaiting an inheritance, but when it came to an arranged meeting to hand back money she promised to repay, she failed to turn up.

Anthony Pettengell, prosecuting, said it came to light after the victim’s bank raised concerns of “suspicious activity” on his account, in September 2019.

Over six months, Claire Copeland was estimated to have received £14,495 and Davina Copeland £6,025.

A male accomplice Gerard Keogan, who knew the victim for 20 years, “borrowed” large amounts to fund his large daily intake of alcohol.

Claire Copeland, 41, of Oak Terrace, Leadgate, and Davina Copeland, 42, formerly of Blackhill, Consett, denied theft and were remanded in custody after the plea hearing on December 1.

They subsequently changed pleas to guilty, while Davina Copeland also admitted trying to convey a drug package into Durham Prison on a visit, on November 3, last year.

Judge Ray Singh said there appears to have been a marked improvement in their physical appearance since they were remanded in custody, which may be down to their drug abstinence.

But he said they behaved “despicably” against a, “vulnerable individual”, treating him as, “a soft touch”.

Claire Copeland was given a 12-month prison sentence suspended for two years.

Sentence on Davina Copeland was deferred until June 21, when she is expected to also receive a suspended sentence, once she is found a fixed address.

Keogan, 53, also of Oak Terrace, who admitted theft and attempted theft, was given a ten-month sentence, also suspended for two years.

All three were also made subject to four-month 6pm to 6am home curfew orders, in Davina Copeland’s case starting from her release.