A woman who forged her wealthy landlord’s will before starving him to death to inherit a slice of his £3.5 million fortune has been jailed for life.
Lynda Rickard, 62, was found guilty of murdering James Sootheran, known as Anthony, in March 2014.
The landowner was more than 6ft tall but weighed less than nine stone when he was found dead at his home in South Newington, Oxfordshire, aged 59.
Rickard, a carer, had been paid £47,000 a year to look after Mr Sootheran’s mother Mary Sootheran – known as Joy – up until she died of dementia in 2012 at the age of 92.
18 months later, Mr Sootheran’s skeletal body was discovered next to a plate of chocolate bars, a donut and a bag of McDonald’s that looked ‘fresher than him,’ a jury heard.
Rickard, who lived at the farm rent-free, admitted helping herself to tens of thousands of pounds of the Sootherans’ money, which was used to fund her family’s lifestyle, including private school fees for her three now-adult children.
She also accepted forging the mother and son’s wills, which would have entitled her to half of Mrs Sootheran’s £1.5 million estate and a third of Mr Sootheran’s £3.5 million fortune.
Rickard did not give evidence at a trial at Reading Crown Court, but denied murder, claiming the death Mr Sootheran was a result of his own self-neglect.
But she was found guilty last Friday in what prosecutors believe is the first successful conviction for murder by deliberate starvation in more than a century.
The jury heard how Mr Sootheran, who owned 60 acres of land at his High Havens farm, led a reclusive life and Rickard took advantage of his vulnerabilities, isolating him and keeping family and friends at arm’s length.
She was then able to deliberately deprive Mr Soothern of food, drink, and medical care to the point that he starved to death.
On Tuesday, Judge Mr Justice Wall handed Rickard a life sentence with a minimum term of 28 years, telling her she had ‘cynically and systematically bled this family’ over a decade.
‘Your greed was such that when you thought Anthony Sootheran might act in a way which would derail your gravy train, you murdered him,’ he said.
‘You murdered Anthony in a most cruel and hard-hearted way. You starved him of food and left him on a mattress on the floor of his room to die.’
The judge said Rickard could have easily ended his suffering, but told her: ‘You were prevented from doing so only by your extraordinary greed.
‘He died a man not only relieved of much of his money, but his dignity as well. You must have watched him die in that way.’
Rickard’s husband, Wayne Rickard, 66, was jailed for 10 and a half years after being acquitted of murder, but convicted of causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable adult.
The pair were also both found guilty of fraud relating to a £30,000 Mitsubishi Shogun paid for with Mrs Sootheran’s money in 2010, while Mr Rickard was convicted of a charge of perverting the course of justice.
Mr Sootheran’s death was not initially treated as suspicious, but prosecutors urged police to investigate after Mrs Rickard was found to have used his bank account after he died.
Police body camera footage showed Richard calmly lighting a cigarette while being arrested.
Medical evidence played a vital part in proving that Mr Sootheran had been severely neglected in the weeks leading to his death, with the prosecution arguing that he could have been saved with the right treatment.
Mr Sootheran’s daughter Hannah, an accountant, won a civil fight against the Rickards for the contents of her father’s estate.
The Rickards lived on the Sootheran farm until 2017 – three years after the death of Hannah’s father – when they were evicted.
‘I can’t comprehend how somebody who said they cared deeply for my dad left him to die in such horrible conditions,’ she said in a statement read in court.
‘I have not had the chance to grieve and get on with a normal life.’
Four of the Rickards’ friends were also sentenced for various crimes relating to the creation of false wills for both deceased Sootherans.
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