A fraudster who swindled an extremely 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 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 the 81-year-old woman while on-duty when he was called to her South Devon home to check on her welfare.

He befriended the victim who lived alone and was struggling to care for herself before using her bank and credit cards to go on an online spending spree between March and August 2020.

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

The housebound victim was suffering from cancer and alcohol-related dementia, had no family or support network and was struggling with both her mental and physical health.

She was later hospitalised and died in November 2020.

Smith’s fraudulent exploits were uncovered when online expenditure, spotted by the victim’s solicitor on her bank statements, raised suspicion because she did not use the internet and had never made purchases on the web or with her cards.

The offences were committed while Smith was off-duty.

Smith admitted eight counts of fraud – totalling £18,276 – when he appeared before Exeter Crown Court today, November 30.

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

The court heard how Smith first met the victim in November 2019 when he attended her home in the Dartmouth area after concern was raised for her welfare.

Fraudster’s Kingsbridge home

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.

Initial police probe failure

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

Suspicion was raised as the victim 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.

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.”