Probate clerk spared jail after giving deceased’s car to stepdaughter

John Patston, of Hoo, near Woodbridge, was given a four-month prison sentence suspended for 12 months by Ipswich Crown Court.

Sentencing the 68-year-old, Recorder Peter Wallis told him: “Although the amount of money involved, by any stretch of the imagination, is not great what is difficult in this case is the breach of trust involved. Those who entrusted property to you expected it to be looked after.”

Patston had previously admitted fraud by abuse of position.

Prosecutor Matthew Sorel-Cameron told the court Patston had been working in a self-employed capacity for Woodbridge solicitor Margary and Miller at the time of the offence.

In 2011 he became the executor for the estate of Rosemary Spragg, who had owned an 11-year-old Vauxhall Astra.

Patston took the vehicle and its registration document without authority.

The court was told he told his stepdaughter Sharna Ringwood he had access to a car her boyfriend Joe Rouvray might be interested in.

Between the three of them they agreed to put the Astra in Miss Ringwood’s name and when Mr Rouvray had saved enough money it would be transferred to him.

Mr Sorel-Cameron said Miss Ringwood and Mr Rouvray drove around in the car as their own for six months.

Miss Ringwood subsequently told police she did not know where Patston had got the vehicle from, although she thought he might have been trying to sell it for a friend.

Patston was caught after Miss Ringwood and Mr Rouvray split up. Two people who knew Mr Rouvray went to Margary and Miller to tell them about the car. Patston had gone to an address where the Astra was stored and retrieved it.

Margary and Miller began an investigation. The court heard another person then went to the solicitor’s office and handed in a copy of a letter from the DVLA showing Miss Ringwood was the Astra’s registered keeper. When confronted it transpired that Patston had transferred the car back into his name.

Patston said Mr Rouvray had been due to buy it and the money would have been paid back into Ms Spragg’s estate.

The court was told that before Patston was dismissed by Margary and Miller he placed the car in an auction and it was sold for £800, which was then returned to the estate.

As part of his suspended sentence Patston must carry out 80 hours’ unpaid work. He was also ordered to pay £150 costs.