A millionaire landlord held captive in a ‘foul, unhygienic cell’ was found starved to death after a controlling carer wanted a slice of his wealthy estate, a jury was told today.
Lynda and Wayne Rickard moved into a farmhouse at High Havens Farm, South Newington, Oxfordshire, set on 60 acres of woodland owned by James ‘Anthony’ Sootheran in 2006.
The couple planned to defraud his estate and the fortunes of his elderly mother Joy, the court heard.
Lynda, 62, had previously admitted forging the will of 92-year-old Joy where she was set to gain half of the £1.5million estate.
Similarly, she conceded she had forged the will of the pensioner’s only son Mr Sootheran – where she would inherit a third of his £3.5million fortune when he died.
Just 18 months after Joy died, having suffered with dementia, the severely malnourished body of 59-year-old Mr Sootheran was discovered in his home, having been under Lynda’s care, the jury heard.
His doctor found the body in his bedroom on March 18, 2014, next to a plate of chocolate bars, a doughnut and a bag of McDonalds that looked ‘fresher than him,’ Reading Crown Court heard today.
The Rickards categorically denied murdering their live-in landlord for financial gain today but claimed it was the consequence of his own self-neglect and entirely coincidental to Lynda having forged his will.
Lynda and Wayne Rickard (pictured) moved into a farmhouse at High Havens Farm, South Newington, Oxfordshire, set on 60 acres of woodland owned by James ‘Anthony’ Sootheran in 2006
Just six months before his body was discovered Mr Sootheran’s cousin Richard Stubbs visited him at High Havens Farm and was ‘horrified’ at what he witnessed.
The court heard that on arrival mother-of-three Lynda attempted to cancel the meeting – as she had many times before – but Mr Stubbs persisted and forced his way into Mr Sootheran’s bedroom upstairs.
Oliver Saxby QC, prosecuting, said: ‘Both Anthony and his room, were in a terrible state. He was thin and frail. The bed linen was stained and looked like it had not been changed in months. A window pane was broken.
‘In the corner, there was a pile of Anthony’s hair. There was no television in the room. There were no books, or magazines. In short, it was a cell. A foul, unhygienic, cell.’
Mr Sootheran told Mr Stubbs that he never left his room and had last seen Lynda the previous evening, meaning he had not eaten or drunk that day, a jury heard.
‘Anthony said he was worried about upsetting Lynda Rickard and scared of being evicted and placed in a mental health institution.
‘He was totally dependent on Lynda Rickard and she was failing to feed him or take any care to ensure he had safe, clean living conditions,’ the prosecuting counsel added.
Mr Stubbs was so horrified that he took photos which the jury members were shown at today in Reading Crown Court.
The severely malnourished body of 59-year-old Mr Sootheran (pictured) was discovered in his home in 2014, having been under Lynda’s care, the jury heard
In his younger years, retired auctioneer’s clerk Mr Sootheran weighed 17 stone but the frail body discovered on March 18, 2014 was half the size of his former self weighing a meagre nine stone.
Intuition led Dr Hilary Edwards to check on the Mr Sootheran at High Havens Farm but she was greeted with locked gates.
The doctor waited for live-in carer Lynda to return who told the GP she had not seen Mr Sootheran since the previous morning.
Prosecutor Mr Saxby QC said: ‘They entered the address and both went upstairs to Anthony’s room. The smell was terrible. Lynda Rickard made a play of knocking loudly but there was no response.
‘They both entered and there they found Anthony, severely emaciated and dead. He was lying, naked from the waist down, on a mattress on the floor with a stained duvet over him.’
The doctor was struck by how clean the room looked, ‘cleaner than normal’ and noted there were new clothes on the chair and food placed near Mr Sootheran, which was unusual in her experience, the prosecuting counsel added.
A disturbing video from police body-worn camera footage of the gruesome scene was played to the jury today of the afternoon they discovered the 59-year-old.
They saw a skeleton-like man lying on a crumpled mattress on the floor – with a plate of chocolate bars, toast and an apple placed beside his head as well as a doughnut in a bag by his feet.
Mr Saxby said: ‘One police officer has a vague memory of there being a bucket in the room used as a toilet. The blanket was wet, the room smelled of urine and it was freezing cold.
‘And the food, as you have seen it in the footage, looked fresh – fresher than Anthony, as one of the officers put it. Indeed, it seemed almost as if it had been placed there after his death.’
A post-mortem examination was carried out three days after the body was found with a pathologist finding that the body was ‘severely lacking in muscle.’
The over-6ft tall man weighed just under nine stone, Mr Justice Wall heard.
The jury was also told how Mr Sootheran’s body was ‘scaly’ and there was a huge pressure sore at the base of his spine.
The pathologist concluded that malnutrition caused the weight loss which led to a lung infection and ultimately Mr Sootheran’s tragic death.
Mr Saxby said: ‘We say that the Rickards wanted him dead, that his death suited their purposes. Will, death, inheritance. They say that they did not realise how serious the situation was and that he wanted to live like that.
‘Had he been referred for medical treatment when his life was first seriously in danger, in other words, a week or so before he died, Mr Sootheran would have survived.
‘Lynda Rickard – forged will in mind – was perfectly happy for him to die. We say, not only did she neglect him, with her husband’s support and assistance but she also played an active part in accelerating his death.’
In March 2018, both Lynda and Wayne Rickard were arrested, amongst other things, in relation to the death of Mr Sootheran.
In addition to murder, Lynda Rickard, of Banbury, Oxfordshire, also denies gross negligence manslaughter, fraud and two counts of perverting the course of justice.
American Wayne Rickard, 66, of the same address as his wife, was additionally charged with causing or allowing the death of a vulnerable adult after Mr Sootheran was discovered deceased in his bedroom, fraud and perverting the course of justice.
He also denies murder.
Michael Dunkley, aged 49 years, of Bloxham, Oxfordshire, stood charged with fraud in relation to the forged will of Mr Sootheran alongside 41-year-old Denise Neal, of Lower Tysoe, Warwickshire.
Shanda Robinson, aged 51 years, also of Banbury, denied fraud and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
The hearing continues.