VICTIMS of an heir hunter who cheated 19 people out of £99,000 have branded him a ‘modern day grave robber’.
Daniel Bates’ case was described as having a ‘tortuous history’ by the judge who jailed him for two years at Portsmouth Crown Court today.
The 45-year-old cheated victims out of the cash by calling them to say they were beneficiaries of unclaimed estates, getting them to sign contracts so he could claim the money for them – but he never paid out.
Among the victims - who were based across the United Kingdom - was Age UK, which was due to receive £21,637 from a legacy, and a pensioner aged 100, and others in their 70s, 80s and 90s.
Two victims have since died before seeing Bates jailed following the fraud, carried out between July 2012 and June 2014.
Beleaguered by delays, Bates failed to turn up to court when his house caught fire, then later when he claimed he was trapped under a digger rebuilding his family home.
Bates, of Beach Gardens, Selsey, had been given extra time to pay back compensation - but his lawyer in court today said ‘it was not in his bank account, it was in the stock market and it has all gone’.
Outside court NHS manager Vince Makin, who lost £12,000, said the case had dragged on for four years and six months.
‘He’s a modern day grave robber,’ Mr Makin, of London, said.
‘I’m so glad that he’s going to be punished for what he has done.
‘He has no morals and has shown no remorse.’
Mr Makin took Bates to county court over the £13,852 he had been due from an estate from his deceased estranged father.
He has so far received just £2,083 from Bates.
Mr Makin added: ‘The man has been the worst experience of my life.’
He and fiance Lorraine Shaw, 42, were hoping to use the cash for IVF.
They have since had a child but are lacking cash to pay for a wedding.
‘If we had the money we’d be married,’ Mr Makin said.
Victims came from Cornwall, Scotland, London, Surrey, Norfolk, Coventry and Nottingham, police said.
The case had been repeatedly adjourned to allow Bates to pay back the money to them.
But jailing Bates for two years, judge Roger Hetherington said: ‘All these promises have come to nothing, and no compensation has been paid.’
He added: ‘There have been aggravating features, the procrastination and fobbing off of the victims and a degree of aggression and blaming others.
‘In addition we’ve since been told that some of the money you gained went towards starting an extension.’
At an earlier hearing prosecutor Kriston Berlevy said: ‘Over a 23-month period this defendant has identified the individuals concerned, secured the written and signed contracts, secured the monies, which is not a quick nor uncomplicated task, and having received those monies he’s either ceased all contact or when contacted he’s lied and delayed.’
DC Paul Gilmour, from Sussex police, said: ‘This has been a long investigation and it’s just shown how easy it is for someone to set up a business as an heir hunter in what is essentially an unregulated industry.’
He added: ‘In many cases the family beneficiaries were either vulnerable or elderly or unaware of the legal process.’
Another victim, MaryAnn Griffiths, of Blaenau Ffestiniog, has praised DC Gilmour for the investigation.
She said: ‘I can’t praise DC Paul Gilmour of the Sussex Police highly enough.
‘He has conducted an amazingly detailed and painstaking investigation and without his excellent work we would never have been able to get this case to court.’
The court heard Bates set up the heir hunting business as a legitimate firm before turning to fraud.
He admitted 19 counts of fraud at a previous hearing.
Confiscation proceedings have been launched in a bid to clawback the cash from Bates.
He must pay £1,000 costs towards the prosecution.