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Cornwall man jailed for forging his uncle's will

Cornwall man jailed for forging his uncle's will

Published by Emma Carton at 11:45am 8th June 2018. (Updated at 12:41pm 8th June 2018)

A man from Cornwall who forged his uncle's will just a day after his death has been jailed for five and a half years.

A court heard how Hedley Venning from Boscastle was cut out of the original, that left most of the money to charity.

The 55-year-old was convicted at Truro Crown Court on Thursday, along with two others who backed up his claims.

52-year-old Stephen Martin from Boscastle and 57-year-old Sally Clarke from Cobham in Surrey were handed suspended sentences and fines.

What happened?

The case related to the death of Mr Venning's uncle, Peter Ascott, who died in 2012. Mr Ascott had written his last will in the presence of his long term solicitor in 2010, leaving the bulk of his estate to the charity Christian Aid.

The day after Peter Ascott died, Hedley Venning produced a forged will he claimed had been signed by Mr Ascott two months earlier and leaving the bulk of his estate to Mr Venning.

This new will had been witnessed by Sally Clarke and Stephen Martin who stated that they had been present in Mr Ascott's house and witnessed him sign the document.

The new will removed all reference to Christian Aid and significantly reduced the legacies to other family members, including Mr Venning's two children. Additionally, local churches had their legacies either cut or significantly reduced.

How was the forgery exposed?

Christian Aid challenged the authenticity of the new will and obtained statements and other supporting evidence from a number of the previous beneficiaries.

During the civil High Court process, Sally Clarke and Stephen Martin provided sworn affidavits and witness statements detailing their presence when Mr Ascott signed the will.

In 2016, Christian Aid and Mr Venning reached a financial agreement whereby Mr Venning paid an undisclosed sum to the charity who in turn removed the caveat they had placed on the forged will.

The forged will was then submitted to the probate registry and a grant of representation issued allowing Mr Venning to benefit from the estate and leaving the previous beneficiaries with much reduced or, in some cases, with no legacies.

The police were notified in late 2016 and officers from the Devon and Cornwall Police Serious and Organised Crime Branch supported by the Force Support Group and officers from Surrey Police made simultaneous arrests of the three defendants in Boscastle and Cobham in February 2017.

Expert forensic evidence was subsequently obtained that showed conclusively that the 2012 will was a forgery.

Following a three week trial where all three defendants gave evidence maintaining that the will was genuine, the jury concluded that the will was forged and returned guilty verdicts on all counts.

What were the verdicts?

On Thursday 17 May, William 'Hedley' Venning, Sally Jane Clarke and Stephen Shaun Martin were all found guilty at Truro Crown Court with a unanimous verdicts.

Hedley Venning was convicted of conspiracy to make a false instrument, namely a will, intending it to be accepted as genuine, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, fraud by false representation and money laundering. He was sentenced to five and a half years in jail.

Sally Clarke and Stephen Martin were also convicted of conspiracy to make a false instrument and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. Both received two-year suspended sentences, substantial unpaid work and fines.

All three were sentenced at Truro Crown court on Thursday 7th June.

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