Married couple who 'starved landlord' were 'eyeing windfall', court hears

23 January 2020, 18:57 | Updated: 23 January 2020, 21:49

A married couple who allegedly starved their vulnerable landlord to death left him to wither in a "foul unhygienic cell," a juror has been told.

Lynda and Wayne Rickard, both in their sixties, were living with James Anthony Sootheran when he was found dead at his 60-acre farm in South Newington, Oxfordshire.

They are charged over the death between 13 and 14 March 2014.

The court heard the 59-year-old former auctioneer clerk was once tall and largely-built, but was "scruffy, skinny and dishevelled" in the months before his death.

Mr Sootheran, who was from a wealthy family of landowners, was found in a "terrible state" when visited in October 2013 by a family friend.

Prosecutor Oliver Saxby told jurors the bed linen was stained and looked like it had not been changed in months.

"A window pane was broken; in the corner, there was a pile of Anthony's hair,"he said.

"There was no television in the room. There were no books or magazines. In short, it was a cell - a foul, unhygienic cell."

Mr Saxby said the alleged victims, Mr Sootheran and his 92-year-old mother, Mary Joy Sootheran, were reliant on Mrs Rickard for care, but were ultimately "exploited" by her.

"She was eyeing a windfall," Mr Saxby said.

"In the simplest of terms, assisted by her husband, she starved him to death, thereby securing for herself and her family the windfall she craved."

Mr Sootheran's mother suffered dementia before dying in August 2012.

Mr Saxby told jurors the case involved "casual, opportunistic greed" that became "something utterly routine and brazen".

He said Mrs Rickard allowed and encouraged her landlord to be "utterly isolated" at the farm, even changing his mobile phone settings to not receive calls.

The court heard Mr Sootheran had "complex" mental health issues and was a recluse who was prone to self-neglect.

Mr Saxby said Mrs Rickard had already admitted forging the wills of Mr Sootheran and his mother.

He said the doctored documents entitled her and her husband to half of Mrs Sootheran's estate - valued at just under £1.5m - and a third of Mr Sootheran's, worth about £3.5m.

But he told jurors Mr Rickard denies "having anything to do with Mr Sootheran's death".

Mrs Rickard is charged with the manslaughter of Mr Sootheran through gross negligence, while Mr Rickard is accused of causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable adult.

The jury also heard Mrs Rickard had pleaded guilty to four fraud charges, two counts of forgery, two counts of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, and possession of articles for use in fraud.

The couple are also both accused of a single count of fraud by false representation relating to Mrs Sootheran.

The pair, of Edinburgh Close, Banbury, are on trial alongside Michael Dunkley, 48, Denise Neal, 39, and Shanda Robinson, 50, who are charged with fraud.

All five defendants deny all charges against them.

They were granted bail as the trial continues.