A FRAUDULENT estate agent who swindled a pensioner out of £5,000 has been spared jail.

Burnley Crown Court how 69-year-old victim Jennifer Scott had purchased a property in Whalley Road, Altham West, using defendant Claire Louise Ainsworth’s property company UK Online Agents in 2017.

Prosecuting, Stephen Parker said Ms Scott decided to sell that property the following year and utilised 35-year-old Ainsworth’s Hyndburn Business Award-winning company to handle the sale.

Mr Parker said: “She brokered a sale to Steven Walker and his business partner, who are builders.

“She told Ms Scott that Mr Walker wasn’t prepared to go any higher than £80,000 and Ms Scott reluctantly agreed to sell the property for that price.

“However she told Mr Walker that the bottom price was £85,000, but that £80,000 would go through the books and £5,000 was to be paid in cash. Mr Walker paid that £5,000 in cash to the defendant believing that it was going to be given to Ms Scott.

“Ms Scott didn’t know anything about the £5,000 and only did find out when she went back to her old property to see if there was any post for her. The subject of the £5,000 was raised by Mr Walker who was present when Ms Scott arrived. She was taken aback by the conversation and told Mr Walker, ‘I don’t know what you’re on about’.”

Mr Parker said the matter was reported to the police and Ainsworth – a mother-of-two – admitted what had gone on but said her behaviour did not amount to criminality. She said she had repaid Mr Walker £4,000 on the advice of a solicitor.

Ainsworth, 35, of New Lane, Oswaldtwistle, denied fraud by false representation but was convicted in her absence when she failed to turn up on the day of the trial. She failed in a bid to have the case re-opened.

Summarising Ms Scott’s statement to the court, Mr Parker said the victim felt she had been betrayed by a woman she believed was a friend.

He added: “She said she can’t understand why the defendant would do this to her.

“She described having a severe attack of shingles being brought on by the stress of this incident. She has gone down to seven stone in weight.”

Defending, Christopher Hudson said his client was a woman of previous good character who was an “intrinsically decent and talented young woman”.

Having bought her first house at 20, she became interested in the mechanics of estate agency and worked for a number of local estate agents, before setting up her own company at the age of 30.

Mr Hudson said: “The consequences of of this offending are self-inflicted but catastrophic. First of all the business has gone. It’s of no worth and it’s being wound up. There is no pot of gold for her to fall back on.

“There is the real prospect the family home has to be sold.”

Sentencing Ainsworth to nine months’ custody but suspending it for 18 months, Recorder Mary Prior QC said sending her to prison immediately would cause a disproportionate amount of suffering to her two young children.

Recorder Prior said: “This was a mean offence and the impact on your victim has been considerable. It isn’t just the money for her. She trusted you. You betrayed that trust. As a result of that I am sure she suffered a second attack of shingles which debilitated her and saw her lose a significant amount of weight. That is your fault and until today you haven’t admitted that.”

Ainsworth was ordered to pay Ms Scott £5,000 compensation within six months and complete 200 hours’ unpaid work.