A consultant psychiatrist ‘swept into the life’ of a vulnerable elderly widow in a bid to plunder her £1.3 million fortune, a court heard yesterday.
Psychiatrist ‘befriended vulnerable 84-year-old widow and persuaded her to change her will so she could strip her of everything she had’
By Eleanor Harding
October 10, 2018
Zholia Alemi, 55, has gone on trial accused of befriending former Bank of England employee Gillian Belham, 87, before trying to ‘strip her of everything she had’.
Alemi ‘exploited her role as a psychiatrist’ to gain Mrs Belham’s trust before rewriting her will to appoint herself as the main beneficiary, a jury at Carlisle Crown Court was told.
Under the will, Alemi allegedly stood to inherit Mrs Belhem’s £300,000 Lake District bungalow, while proceeds from the sale of the pensioner’s main home near Cockermouth, Cumbria, would go to Alemi’s two grandchildren.
The court heard the psychiatrist first met Mrs Belham in February 2016 when she visited her home to assess whether the vulnerable widow had memory problems and needed social care.
Following the visit Alemi said the pensioner did not require any treatment for dementia and discharged her from the care of a ‘Memory Matters’ service run by Workington hospital, where the doctor was a locum psychiatrist.
But within three months, the psychiatrist is alleged to have ‘entirely written out’ Mrs Belham’s own family from her will and appointed herself executor of her £1.3 million estate.
Alemi, who denies all charges against her, is also accused of stealing 33 watches and bank cards belonging to Mrs Belham.
Opening the case yesterday, prosecutor Francis McEntee said: ‘You will see how the defendant swept into Gillian Belham’s life, in February 2016, pretending to be her friend, exploiting this elderly lady’s trusting nature in order to delve into her financial affairs.’
He said Alemi had been ‘building up a picture of her financial worth, stealing the cards and documentation… all as part of the process of finding the most effective way of stripping Mrs Belham of everything she had’.
He added: ‘The defendant had drafted the fraudulent will, which would effectively have given her all Mrs Belham’s property after her death.’
The prosecutor said Mrs Belham’s will was changed so the bulk her property was bequeathed to the psychiatrist – who the pensioner knew only as ‘Julia’.
Mr McEntree said: ‘Under that supposed will, the defendant was to inherit one of Mrs Belham’s homes [in Keswick] and was to benefit under a trust in the sum of £300,000.
‘The proceeds from the sale of Mrs Belham’s main residence were to be held in trust for the benefit of the defendant’s grandchildren.’
Mrs Belham, whose husband Gerard died in 2015, had a net worth of over £1.3 million and had no children or close family.
The court heard that Alemi had ‘taken all the necessary steps’ to control Mrs Belham’s affairs for the rest of her life by taking out power of attorney over her medical and financial affairs.
The alleged fraud was discovered when Alemi was arrested for the ‘comparatively trivial’ alleged theft of 33 watches which had belonged to Mrs Belham’s late husband, who also worked at the Bank of England.
Mr McEntee said: ‘Following that arrest, the police seized the computer on which the defendant had drafted several versions of Mrs Belham’s revised will.’
Jurors were told that Mrs Belham’s main carer, Maria Fell, had never met Alemi, but became concerned when the pensioner started talking about her ‘doctor friend, Julia’.
The court heard that a number of documents relating to Mrs Belham’s will were found on the floor of Alemi’s bedroom in High Harrinton, Cumbria, on June 6, 2016.
A last will and testament bore the signatures of two women who lived close to the pensioner’s Keswick bungalow, which Alemi was treating ‘as her own’ by the middle of May 2016.
Mr McEntee said: ‘The prosecution say that the defendant exploited her role as a psychiatrist and the trust that followed with that role.
‘We say she exploited the access that she had been given in that role and the information that she obtained in the process of assessing Gillian Belham’s social care needs.
‘She exploited the particular vulnerabilities in respect of which she had been expected to provide a safeguard.
‘And we say she did all this expecting to explain away an issue by attributing it to the confusion of an elderly and confused witness.’
Alemi denies five charges which allege attempted fraud and the theft of bank cards and 33 watches.
Mr McEntee said: ‘The defendant’s account, we understand, is that she was simply trying to assist this lady in managing her affairs.’ The trial continues.
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