A DIVORCED couple who stole almost £500,000 from their severely brain damaged daughter’s £2.6m compensation fund to finance their “greed and indulgence” have been jailed.
A judge said Cathy Watson, 44, betrayed the trust between a mother and a daughter “in the most appalling and distressing way” as she sentenced her to five-and-a-half years in prison.
Her ex-husband, Robert Hills, 50, was jailed for three years and four months after Judge Jacqueline Davies outlined how the pair spent huge amounts of cash on top-of-the-range cars, jewellery and even cosmetic surgery.
Doncaster Crown Court heard how the couple bought more than a dozen cars, including luxury BMWs and Mercedes.
Watson bought a Mini Cooper which she had completely resprayed and re-upholstered in pink and finished with the personalised number plate X66 MUM.
Judge Davies recalled how the pair spend thousands of pounds on jewellery and 250 Royal Doulton ornaments.
“We just spent and spent and spent,” Hills told police.
Hills, 50, admitted four counts of theft from the fund which was supposed to provide for Samantha Svendsen, now 29, whom he adopted when he married Watson.
Watson, 44, was found guilty of three counts of theft and one of converting criminal property following a trial last year.
The compensation was awarded to their daughter, who suffers from cerebral palsy and needs round-the-clock care after suffering brain damage owing to medical negligence at her birth.
Jailing the pair, Judge Davies said: “The way the money was spent was nothing short of greed and indulgence.”
Turning to Watson, the judge said: “One can only begin to understand the difficult time you had giving birth to a severely disabled child at the age of 14.
“But you, as her mother, were the person closest to her – the person she looked to trust. You have betrayed that trust in the most appalling and distressing way.”
Hills, of Holly Mews, Grimsby, and Watson, of Heron Gate, Scunthorpe, stood in the glass-fronted dock as they were sentenced, separated by a security officer yesterday.
Neither showed any emotion as they were led away.
Judge Davies said: “There are many parents who have to look after disabled children.
“The majority do so without the sums of money that were awarded to your daughter to help with her care. They do so out of love.”
The judge explained how Miss Svendsen has limited speech and has little body movement. She can move one of her hands, which she uses to operate her wheelchair.
Judge Davies said the initial medical negligence payout included a direct payment to Watson of £270,000 for expenses she had already incurred. It also provided for a £4,000-a-month income for the family on top of benefits they were entitled to.
The rest of the money, the judge said, was supposed to be invested to provide a secure income for Miss Svendsen for the rest of her life.
The judge said all these payments, plus rental income from a property portfolio, meant the family had a large legitimate income “but it was not enough to fund the extravagant lifestyle that you both clearly enjoyed for a substantial period of time”.