By Ted Davenport
A neighbour who cared for a bedbound pensioner during lockdown has denied altering his will to get her hands on his money.
Claire Symons lived next door to retired oncologist Dr. Paul Davis in Bradworthy, West Devon, and visited him regularly to check on his health after he returned home from the hospital after suffering a fall in July 2020.
She cooked meals for him and cleaned up after him but is alleged to have written herself into his will when he asked her help in completing it the next month.
The frail pensioner has told Exeter Crown Court that he dictated notes to Symons so she could complete a pre-printed blank form which had already been signed by him with two friends acting as witnesses.
He alleges that she took it away and that when he asked for it back he found that she had changed it to leave almost all his belongings to her. The value of the will was about £7,500 but Dr. Davis had previously boasted about having £5 million in the bank.
Dr. Davis told the jury that he wrote VOIDED in red ink over the will and called the police to complain that his neighbour had tried to defraud him.
Symons denied altering the will and said she had written exactly what he asked and read it back to him to check it was accurate.
She is a church-going former nursery manager who now runs her own craft stall at a market in Devon and is a mother and grandmother. She has no previous convictions.
Symons, aged 55, of Ford Cottages, Bradworthy, near Holsworthy, denies making or supplying an article to be used in fraud.
Mr. Thomas Faulkner, prosecuting, said Dr. Davis decided to make a will for the first time after being told by his doctor in July 2020 that he was terminally ill with cancer.
He obtained a blank will from a post office and got old friends John and Pat Sanders to sign as witnesses before it was filled in. He asked Symons to help him because he feared he was too frail to write a legible version.
Dr. Davis told the jury she made notes of his wishes, which included leaving most of his estate to cousins in Australia.
He expected the document to be returned but when it wasn’t handed back for a couple of weeks, he asked her to drop it around and she left it in an envelope at his cottage.
He said he was shocked to open it and discover that she had written herself in as the main beneficiary
Dr. Davis gave evidence by video link from his sick bed in his oak-beamed rented cottage and said he had never intended to leave anything to Symons or her partner because he had only known them for a few months.
He said they had been good neighbours and helped him when he had a serious fall but that he intended to leave his property and money to his family and a small group of old friends in Devon.
Asked if he had wanted to leave her his estate, he said: “I would never have done that. It would not be in my character. Friends who I had known for 20 years would have come well before her.
“She wasn’t part of my inner circle. It was not what I wanted.”
Symons gave evidence that Dr. Davis told her he wanted to leave her his estate because he had no living relatives in Britain and she and her partner had helped care for him. She said she did not need Dr. Davis’s money and intended to give it to charity.
Symons said she befriended Dr. Davis after moving next door in November 2019 and meeting him as a neighbour. She and her partner took food around for him and helped him after he had a serious fall in July 2020.
She said he asked her to help with his will a few hours after being told by his GP that he was dying and that he had dictated his wishes and she had written them into the document and read them back to him.
She said: “I wrote down 100 percent what he told me. There was nothing added by me whatsoever. They were his words. He wanted me to deal with it, however, I felt fit. I read it back to him when he finished.”