A man told a widow he met on a dating site he was a retired police officer and persuaded her to “invest” £75,000 in a fictitious Swiss bank investment bond.

Michael Eric Forster created a façade of wealth, telling the woman he had sold a building business and had a rented flat in the up-market Alpine resort of Davos, from where he sent her a postcard, while he forged documentation to back up his claim of having a Swiss bank account.

Durham Crown Court heard that Forster told the woman he was twice married but his most recent wife had died, while she was, in truth, still alive.

Matthew Hopkins, prosecuting, said as their relationship became more serious Forster took the woman on holiday and met her family.

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Knowing she had inherited money after the death of her eldest son, he persuaded her to make the £25,000 investment in March 2014 on the basis she would receive a monthly interest payment, backing that up by transferring £90 to her each month.

Over the following 20 months he successfully suggested she should add to her investment by separate sums of £5,000, £20,000 and £25,000, each time increasing the amount of her interest payments.

But Mr Hopkins said in January 2016, by which time she was receiving £278 per month in “sham interest”, their relationship began to sour and she said she needed some of her invested money back to support her youngest son.

He gave her a hand-written note pledging to repay the money within seven days, but kept back-tracking, firstly claiming the bond would not mature until 2018 and that there was no exit facility.

Forster also told her she may have to pay back the interest payments, and as she kept pressing he pledged to pay her back from his own money within 90 days, and then used the excuse of various “hold-ups” in Switzerland.

Mr Hopkins said by June 2016 the “sham” interest payments ceased and the victim went to the police to report Forster’s actions but was told it was a civil matter.

A subsequent County Court order to repay the money, in February 2017, was ignored by Forster, who even emailed the victim to claim she owed him money.

As the police did subsequently become involved, Forster, 69, of Acomb, near Hexham, was charged with four counts of fraud by false representation, which he admitted at a recent hearing.

He was told by Judge James Adkin he should try to repay the outstanding £75,000 to the victim prior to today’s (Wednesday November 23) sentencing hearing.

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At the outset of the hearing, Forster’s counsel, Chris Knox, said £25,000 had been paid to the victim’s solicitor and he asked for more time to make further repayments.

But Judge Adkin said the case should now proceed to sentence, telling Mr Knox that Forster had been pledging to repay the money since 2016.

He heard an impact statement read by the victim in which she said when she asked for the money back from Forster she was met by, “a torrent of abuse”.

She said she had respected him as a retired police officer and said he seemed, “so genuine”, but she now feels she was “groomed” by him into a false sense of security at a time she was at her most vulnerable following the deaths of her husband and son.

The victim said Forster’s reaction following her decision to retrieve her money exposed how manipulative and dishonest he had been in deceiving her.

She said the whole saga has “taken a toll” on her health and she has been treated for cancer.

The financial impact on her means she still has to work at a time she had hoped to have retired.

Mr Knox said there has, now, been an attempt to pay some of the money back by his client, but he conceded it might have been, “long overdue”.

He added that the defendant has his own health issues and serving a custodial sentence would prove a hardship for both Forster and the prison service dealing with him.

Judge Adkin said Forster used various ruses, including forging documentation, to con the money from the woman over a sustained period, but then, “frittered it away on luxuries”.

Imposing a 27-month prison sentence, he set in motion crime proceeds proceedings, with a court confiscation hearing set for February next year.

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