‘I knew nothing about forged will’, says NHS psychiatrist accused of £1.3m fraud
October 14, 2018
The evidence was given by 88-year-old Joan Grisdale, who said Dr Zholia Alemi asked her and another neighbour living near a Keswick property owned by wealthy widow Gillian Belham to sign a blank piece of paper.
She said the doctor – who had earlier assessed Mrs Belham’s mental capacity for an NHS dementia clinic in Workington – told them that the signatures were needed for a letter to the local authority about council tax.
Prosecutors say Alemi, 55, fraudulently redrafted Mrs Belham’s to inherit her estate, including her main home in Bridekirk, Cockermouth. She denies two thefts, and three counts of fraud.
On the third day of her trial at Carlisle Crown Court, Mrs Grisdale, who lived next to Mrs Belham’s bungalow in Chestnut Park, Keswick, gave a detailed account of her contact with Alemi, who had arrived at the property with the widow.
Referring to Alemi, Mrs Grisdale said: “She introduced herself as a friend of Mrs Belham. As as I recall, it was the doctor lady who said she couldn’t befriend Mrs Belham if she was her patient.”
Alemi suggested they all go out for a meal when they were next in Keswick, said the pensioner, and this happened, the three women going to The Pheasant Inn at Bassenthwaite.
Mrs Grisdale said Alemi told her that Mrs Belham had lost the key to the bungalow. The pensioner had had a spare key to the property – used when she collected the widow’s mail for her – so she offered to have a copy cut, which she gave to the defendant.
Later, said Mrs Grisdale, Alemi expressed concern that Mrs Belham was “overspending” and might not have sufficient money. She offered to have the pensioner’s mail sent to the bungalow so she could monitor it, she said.
Mrs Grisdale described how the defendant had asked her and another neighbour to sign a piece of paper, saying it was part of a letter about Council Tax liability for the Keswick bungalow.
Prosecutor Francis McEntee asked Mrs Grisdale to describe the paper.
“It was a blank piece of paper,” said the pensioner. “I was under the impression that it would be attached to a letter to Allerdale Council.”
Mr McEntee showed Mrs Grisdale a copy of Mrs Belham’s will, bearing her signature.
“Did you ever bear witness to the signing of the will of Gillian Belham,” asked Mr McEntee.
“Never,” replied Mrs Grisdale. The barrister asked: “Did you witness Mrs Belham signing any document when you were together?”
The witness replied: “I never signed any document in Mrs Belham’s presence.” The barrister then pointed Mrs Grisdale to her signature on the will.
“Have you signed this document?” he asked.
She replied: “I have not signed this document.” Drawing her attention to a second signature in her name elsewhere on the will, Mr McEntee asked if she signed that page. She said: “It doesn’t look like my signature exactly. I never signed any document like this.”
Challenged by defence QC Dafydd Enoch about why she had apparently signed a blank sheet of paper, Mrs Grisdale said: “I’m a very trusting person. I didn’t suspect anyone.
“I did it in good faith, hoping it would help Mrs Belham out of what I took to be some sort of dispute over council tax.” The QC suggested Mrs Grisdale had forgotten signing the will.
“No. Never,” said the witness. “I never signed anything relating to anyone’s will.” Looking at the second page of the will with her signature, Mrs Grisdale said: “It appears to be a replica signature. It’s definitely not my signature.” She rejected Mr Enoch’s suggestion that her signature could vary quite a lot.