A nephew forged his devout uncle’s will after he was written out for getting divorced but was caught after it was signed – on a ‘holy’ Sunday, a court heard.
William ‘Hedley’ Venning fell out with his religious relative following an acrimonious marriage break-up, prosecutors say.
Peter Ascott didn’t approve of his nephew’s divorce and cut him out of his will – so Venning forged a new one, Truro Crown Court heard.
He constructed a plot like something found ”’in the pages of a Victorian novel” and doctored a fake will benefitting himself, the court was told.
In the forged will he wrote out or reduced amounts of up to 10K that was due to go to other relatives Venning had fallen out with, it was said.
Prosecutors say part of their case is that the fake will was executed on a Sunday – which his devout uncle would not have done on a day he deemed holy.
Venning, 55, is accused of conspiring to make a false instrument, conspiring to pervert the course of justice, fraud and converting criminal property.
Prosecutor Jason Beal, said Venning, of Boscastle, Cornwall, had originally been a beneficiary in his uncle Peter Ascott’s will.
But he said after Venning split with his wife, devout Christian Ascott removed him, prompting the defendant to take matters into his own hands.
Also in the dock were Sally Clarke, 57, of Cobham in Surrey, and Stephen Martin, 52, of Boscastle.
They are accused of conspiring to make a false instrument and conspiring to pervert the course of justice charges for allegedly signing the falsified will as witnesses.
Mr Beal said: You are used to hearing on television and reading in newspapers about new criminal offences.
”But some criminality is as old as the hills and could be rooted in the pages of a Victorian novel.
“These three defendants all played a role in the forging a subsequent use of the will of Peter Ascott.
”Venning was disinherited by Peter Ascott and wanted to get it back.
“He did so by producing a will we say was a forgery, either signing it himself or getting somebody else to do it.”
Mr Beal said childless Mr Ascott died, aged 89, in November 2012 and that Venning was close to Mr Ascott for a number of years up until four years before his death.
Detailing the wills, Mr Beal described how Mr Ascott’s first one was made on February 21, 2003, and in the event of his death there would be a number of beneficiaries including Venning who would receive £10,000.
Venning’s sister was also set to get a similar figure, as well as local parish churches and the charity Christian Aid.
In this will Venning was also one of the two executors, responsible for dividing up the estate should Mr Ascott die.
Mr Beal told the court: “Hedley Venning was married to Susan Venning for about 20 years but in 2010 Venning and his wife began to have marriage difficulties and separated, a separation which was far from amicable.
“They divorced in December 2011. Susan Venning and Mr Ascott were also very close and following the break-up Mr Ascott took the side of Mrs Venning and made it clear he disapproved of how Hedley had behaved.
“Peter Ascott was a man with strong religious and moral values and his relationship with Hedley Venning soured.
”As a result of the way he thought his nephew had behaved he decided to change the terms of his will.”
Mr Beal added how a new will was executed in December 2010 whereby Venning was no longer a beneficiary or an executor, a role instead allocated to a local vicar.
Despite Venning being axed, his sister Elizabeth and Susan remained as beneficiaries.
Mr Beal said: “In May 2011 Hedley Venning wrote a letter to Peter Ascott acknowledging that he changed the will.
“The tone of the letter attempted to persuade Mr Ascott that the problems in the marriage were caused by Susan.”
The CPS claimed that at this point Venning falsely declared to have reconciled with his uncle before the execution of the third ‘falsified’ will.
Mr Beal said: “Peter Ascott didn’t inform anyone else he had changed his will or reconciled with Hedley and reinstated him as a beneficiary.
”The reason was because he hadn’t.”
In September 2012 Venning was said to have emailed Louise Webster saying: “My dear elderly uncle has changed the will and disinherited me as a result of Sue’s manipulation.”
Mr Beal added: “As Mr Ascott’s health deteriorated in the lead up to his death he continued to refer to Susan as his next of kin, showing no reconciliation.
”He died on November 27 and on the day he died Hedley Venning argued with his carer Pauline Dummet.
“Shortly after Mr Ascott’s death Hedley Venning reported to find a third will, allegedly executed in September 2012, replacing Mr Ascott’s solicitor with another solicitor from a different firm as an executor. The executor of the previous two wills continued to act as Mr Ascott’s solicitor right up to his death.”
Mr Beal then proceeded to work through a number of prosecution arguments undermining the integrity of the will, firstly that co-defendant Clarke was Venning’s new girlfriend and that Mr Ascott disapproved of the relationship.
Mr Beal also claimed that the third will was executed on a Sunday, and that as a devout Christian Mr Ascott had been unwilling to do business on a Sunday.
He added that the third will was formalised just six days after the email to Louise Webster whereby Venning told her he had been disinherited.
A number of alterations in the third will were read out to the jury by Mr Beal, including that Susan Venning’s entitlement would plummet from £10,000 to £1,000 and that Pauline Dummet, the carer Venning allegedly said would “get her comeuppance”, went from being a £10,000 beneficiary to a £500 one.
Elizabeth’s cut also went down with Mr Beal saying they “didn’t get on”, whereas Venning’s children’s entitlements were said to have gone up.
Venning is said to have told a vicar that he patched things up with Mr Ascott and that he wanted to keep his new will a secret so people didn’t persuade him to change it back the other way.
Mr Beal said: “Sally Clarke and Stephen Martin said they’d been present when Peter Ascott signed the will.
“The third will was examined. It was mostly typed and had a few handwritten entries. One was said to be the signature of Peter Ascott but was not his signature.
”A handwriting expert examined it and said it showed a pictorial similarity but differed in fluency featuring a number of unexpected pen lifts.
“Hedley Venning used the opportunity to disinherit those he had fallen out with and also took ownership of a Honda Jazz motor car which he sold for £4,000.”
All three defendants deny the charges against them.
The trial continues.