Shaman faith healer promised cancer cure for ‘cash sacrifices’ in £1million Hampstead fraud, court hears
PUBLISHED: 06:00 01 May 2014 | UPDATED: 15:46 06 May 2014
A fake faith healer conned at least £1million from desperate victims across Hampstead who were convinced she could cure cancer by sending money to the Amazon jungle, a court heard this week.
In a bizarre fraud case, Juliette D’Souza is accused of persuading 11 people to part with huge cash “sacrifices” of £30,000 or £40,000 at a time, telling them she was a shaman with supernatural powers.
They believed the money was flown to Suriname to be hung from a sacred tree in the Amazon rainforest – somehow solving whatever problem they faced.
Instead, it allegedly funded a “lavish lifestyle” in which D’Souza rented three or four luxury flats at a time, and splashed a fortune on Louis Vuitton bags, jewellery, antique furniture and holidays, Blackfriars Crown Court heard.
The 59-year-old, of Perrin’s Lane, Hampstead, allegedly preyed on people at their most vulnerable over a 12-year period and boasted of celebrity clients including Princess Diana and music guru Simon Cowell, to win their trust.
Victims, mostly referred to her by osteopath Keith Bender, were so “under her spell” that they sold houses at her say so, the trial was told.
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.”
Victims included Ruth Fillingham, who allegedly 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, the court heard. Much of the money was supposed to secure his job, but he was still made redundant
D’Souza is said to have 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.
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.
Prosecutor Mr Aina told the court that D’Souza claims she never professed to be a shaman, but that Keith Bender was behind the fraud and has arranged a conspiracy against her involving all of the witnesses. She has yet to take the witness stand.
D’Souza denies 23 charges of obtaining property by deception and fraud. The trial continues.