Will crook who faked his own death back behind bars


A conman who once faked his own death in a ‘Canoe Man’ style scam is back behind bars for posing as a will writer to swindle a 94 year-old man out of his home.

Anthony McErlean, 73, obtained power of attorney over George Manwill and moved him into an old people’s residence after helping him sell his house during 2016.

He tried to purchase a £39,000 necklace with the pensioner’s money and bought a £16,000 Audi, claiming he needed it to ferry the pensioner to his medical appointments.

A Santander bond, worth £135,000, went straight into McErlean’s bank account.

McErlean was convicted of fraud in 2011 after he faked his own death to pocket a £520,000 life insurance payout.

He filled in documents under his wife’s name and claimed that he had been hit and killed by a cabbage truck in Honduras.

But unlike so-called Canoe Man John Darwin, who fooled insurers into making a payout, McErlean didn’t get a penny.

He was undone when his fingerprints were traced on his forged death certificate.

Unrepentant McErlean appeared on ITV’s ‘Pensioners behind bars’ in December 2012.

Speaking from his cell at HMP Elmley on the Isle of Sheppey, McErlean told the cameras: ‘I was unlucky – I thought it was a bloody good scheme.’

He added sarcastically: ‘But one musn’t go committing fraud against major insurance companies, because they really are such lovely people.’

The bespectacled pensioner has previous convictions including for robbery and possession of a firearm dating back to 1963.

His sentence for faking his own death was reduced from six years to five years while inside due to ‘ill-health’.

McErlean now claims he has a brain tumour.

Woolwich Crown Court heard how Mr Manwill received a cold call in September 2015 from a will writing service and McErlean turned up at his front door shortly afterwards.

Over the next eight months McErlean inveigled his way into every aspect of the elderly man’s life – helping him with the sale of his house, gaining lasting power of attorney over him, linking his bank accounts to Mr Manwill’s and moving him out.

He forged the signature of Constance Jessop, an elderly neighbour and friend of Mr Manwill’s on the documents giving him power of attorney.

In a witness statement Mr Manwill said: ‘At first I didn’t trust him, but I received a phone call from a lady stating he was qualified.

‘He seemed genuine, I came to trust him and consider him a friend.

‘In July 2016 my house was sold.

‘He told me it had been put in a Lloyd’s bank account but I have never seen any evidence of that.’

He said that he had paid McErlean ‘several thousand’ for his services.

Mr Manwill added: ‘My will was split five ways with my family and neighbours.

‘I have not given him any permission to take money from my accounts.

‘He asked me to go to Spain but I don’t want to go.

‘I feel such a fool that he has taken my money when I trusted him.

‘I never wished for Anthony or Sonya McErlean to be beneficiaries of my will.’

A signed and witnessed will naming them both as sole beneficiaries of Mr Manwill’s £800,000 was made but has never been found.

McErlean visited Cousins jewellers in Canterbury on August 4 2016 to buy the necklace and claimed he had won £750,000 in the lottery

He told the court: ‘I have very little recollection of that.

‘I was very inebriated.’

After McErlean was found guilty by unanimous verdict his lawyer told the court his client had a brain tumour and asked for bail.

Judge Philip Shorrock refused and said: ‘Had you not been arrested you would have milked that account for several hundred thousand pounds.

‘You should come back expecting a very heavy sentence indeed.’

McErlean, of Union Road, Canterbury, Kent, denied but was convicted of one count of dishonestly obtaining lasting power of attorney for gain.

He was remanded in custody ahead of sentence on February 25.