A fraudster who swindled a vulnerable elderly widow out of more than £18,000 while he was working as a police officer has been jailed.

Former police constable Sam Smith, who lived in Fore Street, Kingsbridge, when the offences were committed, spent the money on computer gaming accessories, motorcycle gear and other expensive items before being found out by the victim’s solicitor.

Smith first met 81-year-old former banker Christina McGrath while on-duty when he was called to her £1m home in Swannaton Road, Dartmouth, to check on her welfare, in November 2019.

On one occasion, 31-year-old Smith signed for goods using the name of the woman’s dead husband.

Mrs McGrath was also suffering from cancer, and had no family or support network, reportedly had £170,000 cash in her account at the time the crimes were committed.

Smith’s activities were exposed when online expenditure, spotted by Mrs McGrath’s solicitor on her bank statements, raised suspicion because she did not use the internet and had never made purchases online with her cards.

Smith, who committed the offences while he was off-duty, admitted eight counts of fraud – totalling £18,276 – when he appeared before Exeter Crown Court last week.

Smith, now of Long Lane, London, was sentenced to 20 months in prison.

Thousands spent online

The court heard Mrs McGrath was a refugee from Belarus who had fled communism. She then worked her way up from a cleaner at a London bank to her position as international banker.

Following her husband’s death in 2001 she arranged for her estate to be set up as a trust in order to help marine engineers and young musicians after she died.

Smith visited her address numerous times while on- and off-duty, and as her health deteriorated further, he went on to spend thousands of pounds online on items, such as gaming and computer gear, a 65-inch television, a soundbar, an air weapon and accessories, and motorcycle gear.

Each time he recorded the victim as the customer and used her contact details and address.

He then arranged for a computer and gaming chair to be delivered to a car park and signed for the items using the name of the victim’s late husband.

A number of the items were found in Smith’s Kingsbridge home when officers searched the property.

The crimes were uncovered when a solicitor appointed to review Mrs McGrath’s financial affairs became concerned over the online transactions.

Suspicion was raised as Mrs McGrath had never used the internet, did not have an e-mail address or owned a mobile phone.

The solicitor’s concerns were originally reported to police in September 2020, but an initial investigation did not identify Smith’s involvement.

Mrs McGrath was later hospitalised and died in November 2020.

However, the case was reviewed and reopened in May 2022 and a link made between the online purchases and Smith.

He was on an unpaid career break when his involvement in the frauds was uncovered. Smith resigned from the force in July 2023.

Detective Constable Emily Sheppard said: “I never knew or met the victim as she sadly passed away in November 2020, but I felt I got to know her a little while investigating these offences.

“She lived an extremely interesting life and remained fiercely independent until her final year when her health sadly deteriorated.

“Throughout my enquiries she has always been in my thoughts. I am deeply saddened that I have had to investigate the actions of a former colleague for these offences.

“His actions do not represent the values held by the majority of officers who diligently do their best to help and serve the public every day.”

Superintendent Jo Arundale, head of Devon and Cornwall Police’s professional standards department, added: “We note and welcome the sentencing of Sam Smith today for what are appalling crimes involving a vulnerable victim.

“Smith’s actions were wrong, illegal and he now faces the consequences of that.

“All police officers have a privileged role in being part of a force responsible for the safeguarding of vulnerable people.

“Devon and Cornwall Police takes any reports of illegal or inappropriate conduct extremely seriously.

“All officers and staff are expected to abide by the code of ethics and ensure the highest standards of behaviour, both on and off duty.

“I can reassure the public that the overwhelming majority of our officers and staff work diligently to help to keep the public safe, uphold our high standards and provide an exceptional service to our communities.

“We will always take the appropriate action when standards fall below those expected and continue to learn from any instances where they do.”