A MAN who gambled away the life savings of vulnerable people who trusted him to oversee their wills has been jailed for over five years.

Over a decade Peter Holbrook, 75, fraudulently took almost £850,000 from nine victims, some of whom have since died.

At his sentencing on Monday a court heard that he had taken money that hard working people had saved to pass onto their loved ones after they died, and frittered it away on his gambling addiction.

When one family threatened to get the police involved, he convinced someone to impersonate a police officer and phone them – telling them their concerns about the missing money was not a police matter.

The case was brought to court by West Yorkshire Trading Standards, who had received numerous reports about Holbrook's frauds.

Earlier this year, Holbrook pleaded guilty to seven counts of fraud. His sentencing took place over two days, beginning on Friday and concluding today.

Holbrook, of Crossfield Close, Oxenhope, began his offending in 2011.

Although he had a background in finance, he had no legal qualifications to write wills or deal with people’s estates.

Despite this he befriended people who were vulnerable, either through being elderly or due to having recently lost a loved one.

He convinced them to transfer money that he would then invest on their behalf.

Instead he used the money to fund his gambling addiction.

He did pay some of the money back to victims, but he got this money by defrauding other people.

One of the victims lost £384,000 to Holbrook.

Holbrook’s defence told the court that before these incidents he had lived a crime free life, and had even helped set up a table tennis club in Keighley.

Mr Batchelor, defending, said the offending had put great strain on his family.

The betting companies Holbrook had used had been contacted by the courts to see if any of the money could be recovered. Although three companies were cooperating with requests, others had been less forthcoming.

Sentencing Holbrook, Recorder Richard Thyne said: “You deliberately defrauded nine victims of just under £850,000 by dishonestly offering to invest their savings.

“You selected your victims either because they were elderly or because at the time you chose to prey on them they were at their most vulnerable – having suffered the loss of a loved one.”

Holbrook had repeatedly met one elderly victim when she was by herself, despite her son requesting to be present for any such meetings.

He also prepared letters from banks and other organisations to convince families their money had been invested. Recorder Thyne said these letters were to “further his deception.”

He added: “In one case you arranged for a call to be made to a family by someone masquerading as a police officer to say this was not a police matter.

“You told another victim’s family they would have to take you to court to get the money back.”

As well as gambling much of the money away, Holbrook spent some of it on a holiday to the Netherlands and Belgium.

In one police interview Holbrook denied the claims, and blamed one of the families, describing them as “spiteful.”

In another, he boasted of being a successful professional gambler who made £100,000 a year. He said he kept up his “job” helping families with their wills because “he liked to help people.”

He only admitted his guilt on a third interview.

Referring to the impact of the crimes on the victims and their families he said: “You took away people’s financial security at a time they were vulnerable and most needed it. You took away hard earned money that parents had saved to pass on to their children.

“People’s plans for retirement were overturned and properties were sold to meet the cost of care that ought to have been paid through savings.

“This offending caused intolerable anxiety and effected the health of those concerned. It caused some victims to blame themselves for what happened, when all they had done had put faith in your well-practiced and convincing lies.”

He acknowledged a prison sentence would have a “significant impact” on Holbrook’s wife, but said his crimes were so serous a custodial sentence was needed.

He added: “You had numerous opportunities to stop this, but you didn’t.- You thought only of yourself and not of anyone else.”

Holbrook was jailed for five years and three months. He will have to serve at least half in custody.