'Evil' sponger preyed on dying Blackburn man

Cheryl Leach and (inset) Albert Cooke

Cheryl Leach and (inset) Albert Cooke

First published in Blackburn
Last updated
Lancashire Telegraph: Photograph of the Author by , Crime reporter

A PENSIONER forced to transfer money to a woman as he lay dying in hospital told his family she was ‘pure evil’.

‘Despicable’ Cheryl Leach has been told to expect up to five years in prison after breaching an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) preventing her from targeting the elderly and vulnerable for cash.

The 35-year-old had contacted Albert Cooke, who was suffering from cancer and died on Monday, begging for money, despite the ASBO, Blackburn Magistrates heard.

She said she was sorry the grandad-of-two was ill but could he give her some money, prosecutors said.

But when the 69-year-old said he was in hospital and couldn’t get to a cash machine she had told him he could send money to her account via the internet, the court heard.

Catherine Allan, prosecuting, said seven cash transfers to Leach’s account were discovered by Mr Cooke’s son Justin.

Leach, who lives in Mather Street, Radcliffe, Manchester, because she is banned from Blackburn with Darwen, pleaded guilty to breaching the ASBO made on December 5.

She was committed in custody to Preston Crown Court for sentence after the magistrates ruled the 12 month maximum prison sentence they could impose was not enough.

“We feel 12 months is not enough given the circumstances,” said the chairman. “The ASBO says quite clearly that if you breach any part of the order you can go to prison for up to five years. People cannot expect any sympathy if they breach these orders.”

Catherine Allan, prosecuting, said Leach was one of several people made subject to the ASBO because they preyed on the elderly and vulnerable, persuading them to give them money.

“Albert Cook, who sadly died of cancer, was such a person and he was specifically named in the ASBO,” said Miss Allan.

“The defendant has taken a great deal of money off him over recent years causing his family to complain to the police. His son, Justin Cooke, said Leach had manipulated his dad financially to such an extent that the police sought this order.”

The prosecution said Mr Cooke was taken into hospital in December and it was known he would never leave.

When Justin Cooke went round to his father’s address on January 1, he saw a bank statement which revealed several money transfers to Leach’s account.

“Even though this gentleman was terminally ill she was still manipulating him and getting money off him in breach of the ASBO,” said Miss Allan.

She said Leach had previous convictions for burglary, assault and robbery and was in breach of prison licence for a robbery offence.

Michael Blacklidge, defending, said Leach expressed remorse and had the decency to admit the offences.

He said Leach was adamant the money was transferred before Mr Cooke went into hospital.

“These were transactions at arms length. She was in Bury and he was in Blackburn,” said Mr Blacklidge.

Sgt Jon Cisco, of South East Blackburn neighbourhood policing team, described Leach’s behaviour as ‘despicable’.

He said: “This type of exploitation is criminal and will be not be tolerated by Lancashire Police.

“She preyed on a vulnerable and elderly man who was clearly very poorly at the time.

Speaking after the case Justin Cooke said: “As my dad was dying he got really upset as he could see what Leach had done.

“She had taken thousands from him over the years.

“On his death bed he said she was pure evil and that she never should any emotion for what she was doing.

“She hasn’t even left enough money to cover his funeral.”

As well as putting pressure on former labourer Mr Cooke to hand over cash, she had earlier persuaded him to buy her driving lessons and a car, Mr Cooke said.

He said: “My dad was an amazing person. He was kind, gentle and compassionate and would do anything for anyone. I think that is how they met.

“After my mum Joan died of cancer in 2006, dad started socialising in Blackburn town centre and he met Cheryl in the pub. He used to wear lots of gold jewellery and that is probably what attracted her to him.

“He was very flattered to be shown attention by someone much younger and when she said she needed money he believed her.”

Mr Cooke’s funeral will take place on Tuesday at 2pm at Pleasington Chapel of Rest with a burial in Pleasington Cemetery to follow.

Family flowers only have been requested but anyone wanting to make a donation in his memory is urged to give to East Lancashire Hospice.

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