An estate agent who ruthlessly used his position as a prominent figure in the community to win the trust of vulnerable clients has been jailed for two years.
Roger Darnton - dubbed 'Mr Guisborough' for his community work in the North Yorkshire town - was found guilty of abusing his position as power of attorney and as the executor of a will of a prominent local farmer whose property and assets totalled about £2.4m.
In the end, Darnton defrauded the man’s estate to the total of £97,778 while also defrauding a woman in her 90s of more than £3,500 and keeping the rent he had received from a tenant.
He used money to pay personal bills, a mortgage, bank loans and a large quantity of antiques and the costs of their haulage and storage.
In terms of the major defraud on the estate, Darnton was told by the judge in the case that: "You managed to create an environment in which there was almost no scrutiny of your actions. The other executors felt happy to trust you.”
Darnton’s defence claimed that he had used some of the money to stave off debts run up by his estate agency, which closed last October - officially because of Darnton’s retirement.
The defence also said: "Mrs Darnton was unaware of the extent of her husband’s financial and criminal activities, and she was very upset at being the subject of police raids and investigation."
A message posted on his agency’s website last year stated: “After practising as an Estate Agent in Guisborough for 35 years, serving the people of my much loved home town, I wish to announce that I will be retiring and ceasing trading on 31st October 2018. It has been a privilege serving the people of Guisborough, to whom I wish every happiness and prosperity in the years to come. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all my clients past and present for their support throughout my career.”
Unusually, the police issued a statement to express their pleasure at the conclusion of the case.
In it, investigating officer Detective Constable Emma Marsay of Cleveland Police Economic Crime Unit says: “Roger Darnton was well known and well respected in the community, and he was in the trusted position of a local estate agent for over 35 years.
“It is now clear that he insinuated himself into the lives of trusting often vulnerable people, in one case taking up Power of Attorney and in another acting as Executor and thereby benefitting financially from these arrangements.
“This was a complex case to investigate. The offences began several years ago and because there were legal and financial aspects to the investigation, it was essential we were meticulous in our inquiries to ensure the best outcome.
“I am pleased with the result. It should reassure people that we will do all we can to ensure that we protect the vulnerable and bring to justice those who offend against them.”
You can see a local press report here.