July 31 2014 Latest news:
by Tom Marshall
Thursday, May 29, 2014
A woman accused of swindling £1million in a bizarre scam involving shamanic faith healing and the Amazon jungle is a “very nice person”, her trial heard this week.
Juliette D’Souza, of Perrin’s Lane, Hampstead, allegedly made a fortune by convincing vulnerable people to part with huge cash “sacrifices”, telling them she was a faith healer who could cure terminal illnesses, enable them to conceive or help their disabled children.
Some victims gave her sums approaching £200,000, believing the money would be sent to the Amazon jungle in Suriname to be hung from a sacred tree, somehow solving their problems, Blackfrairs Crown Court has heard.
But her friend and beauty therapist Danuta Hodgkinson, 55, told the court this week that she has known D’Souza for 25 years and had no knowledge of cash sacrifices or the current trial until she read the newspapers.
“I read an article in the paper, Juliette never told me anything about it, I think she was a bit ashamed, I didn’t know even then – I called her and said what is that all about,” she said.
Ms Hodgkinson insisted D’Souza was not capable of carrying out the alleged fraud.
“She is actually quite level headed, straight talking and a very grounded person,” she said.
She added: “I never met anybody as friendly as Juliette is... She is very nice person, a very nice person indeed.”
Ms Hodgkinson was the only witness called by the defence, after D’Souza decided not to give evidence herself. Judge Ian Karsten QC told the jury: “Ms D’Souza has decided not to give evidence and you are to take from that whatever inferences you might find appropriate.”
D’Souza spent the money on a lavish lifestyle of luxury rented properties, first-class air travel, jewellery and designer handbags, the court has been told.
When two of her victims broke into her home in Willoughby Road, Hampstead, in 2008, they allegedly discovered countless designer shopping bags, seven freezers filled with rotting meat and a caged monkey called Joey.
Prosecutor Benjamin Aina QC described D’Souza as a “professional confidence trickster whose lies have caught up with her”.
He said: “If this was an honest scheme, she would say ‘Yes I am a shaman, yes I took their monies and yes they got what they paid for.
“But it is dishonest and she knows it is dishonest – that’s why she denies doing it because she knows she has gone too far – she has taken too much money.
“And if she was to speak the truth – I am a shaman I was offering this service, the first thing somebody would say to her is ‘hold on a second, why were you asking for £10,000 or £20,000?
“We have heard from an expert that shamans don’t do that, they only taken tokens.
“She boasts, she asks for ridiculous sums of money and the reason? – because it is a con.”
D’Souza denies 23 charges of obtaining property by deception and fraud.
The trial continues.