September 18 2014 Latest news:
Emma Youle and Tom Marshall
Friday, May 30, 2014
A Hampstead woman who swindled £1million from vulnerable people by claiming to be a spiritual healer - in what a judge described as “the worst confidence fraud I have ever dealt with” - has been jailed for 10 years.
Juliette D’Souza, of Perrin’s Lane, extracted huge sums of cash from 11 people across Hampstead and north London – including opera singers, photographers and solicitors – by claiming to be a shamanic healer with links to the rainforest in Suriname.
Yesterday she was convicted of 23 counts of fraud and obtaining property by deception in a unanimous decision by the jury at Blackfriars Crown Court.
Today she was sentenced to 10 years in prison for each of the 23 counts to run concurrently - the maximum sentence allowed by Parliament.
Sentencing her, Judge Ian Karsten QC said: “It is the worst confidence fraud I have ever had to deal with or indeed that I have of”.
He said D’Souza had “ruined her victims” and “wrought havoc” on their lives to give herself a life of luxury.
“They did exactly what you required them to do,” said the judge. “They were terrified in many cases of the consequences of disobeying your instructions, you intimidated them with threats of dreadful consequences should they disobey your instructions, and you subjected a number of your victims to your will because they lost all their autonomy.
“They became entirely dependent on you. To reinforce their dependency on you, you actually saw to it that they were cut off from their own friends and family.
“You warned them about the evil temperament of the people they were close to, so they separated themselves from those people - the result, complete dependency on you.”
Following a five-week trial, the jury yesterday took only an hour to find D’Souza guilty on all charges – which covered a 12-year period from 1998 to 2010.
The judge said: “It’s obvious that they [the jury] reached their verdict on the back of overwhelming evidence.”
D’Souza was such a persuasive con-artist that she managed to convince her victims she could cure terminal illnesses, help disabled children or enable them to conceive by sending cash to the South American jungle – to be hung from a sacred tree.
Her victims believed she was working with two other shamans in Suriname, known as Pa and Oma, who would hang their cash “sacrifices” on the tree in the heart of the jungle.
Instead, D’Souza, 59, spent the money on a lavish lifestyle, renting three or four luxury flats at a time in Hampstead and splashing a fortune on Louis Vuitton bags, jewellery, antique furniture and holidays.
She boasted of celebrity clients including Princess Diana and X Factor guru Simon Cowell.
Her victims described her as confident, well-spoken and attractive, and said she was incredibly manipulative and persuasive, convincing them that terrible things would happen if they did not hand over cash sacrifices.
The victims were so under her spell during the 12-year scam that one woman, who cannot be named, had an abortion at her say so, while another, Ruth Fillingham, sold her home because D’Souza said it was “spooked”.
The woman who had the abortion had previously given D’Souza, who used a litany of fake names, more than £170,000 in the belief it would help her to conceive.
She broke down in tears in the witness box as she gave evidence at the trial and described D’Souza as “pure evil” and likened her to a “psychopath”.
“She told me the baby was very deformed and ill. That it was sick,” she said.
“She said that I should get rid of the baby. She told me to go to London to have the abortion done.”
Opening the case, Benjamin Aina, prosecuting, said: “Juliette D’Souza told people she was a shaman. She was dealing with members of the public who had serious life challenges: some were dying from cancer, some had close friends who were dying from cancer, some had physical ailments, some were desperate to have children.
“In one case, a couple had a child with disabilities who they wished to help.
“The money would be sent in a sealed envelope to Suriname to faith healers Oma and Pa.
“They would put the money under or on a special tree and as a result of this, the life problem would be solved. Instead, she used the money to fund a lavish lifestyle in the UK and in South America.”
D’Souza did not take the witness stand during the trial, but in police interviews, she attempted to pin the blame on one of her victims, osteopath Keith Bender, who had become convinced of her healing powers after accompanying her on a trip to Suriname in 1997.
Mr Bender went on to introduce D’Souza to many of her victims, believing that they would be helped.
The jury heard that osteopath Mr Bender “genuinely believed that she had special powers” and was “completely under her influence” for more than 10 years, until he realised she was a sham in 2007.
D’Souza’s victims included:
- Ms Fillingham, who paid £169,000 from 1998 to 2004 to ward off the evil spirit of her deceased brother, save her partner from a nonexistent tumour and ensure her eye surgery would be a success – which it was not.
- Her boyfriend, Geoff Wheeler, handed over £195,000 in the same period. Much of the money was supposed to secure his job, but he was still made redundant.
- Retired opera singer Sylvia Eaves, 83, was conned out of a total of £353,000.
D’Souza had multiple identities and a litany of addresses across Hampstead, including in Perrin’s Lane, Denning Road, Willoughby Road, Rosslyn Hill and Heath Street, as well as in West Hampstead, Belsize Park, Kensington and St John’s Wood.
She would pay up to a year’s rent in advance – in cash – and occupy several flats at once.
It emerged during the trial that she was previously convicted of 28 counts of fraud and four of theft, spending time in Holloway prison in the 1980s.
Related stories: Ham&High coverage of the trial: