NICOLE ANDERSON sought help from a therapist when her career suffered after she started drinking. But it was the therapist rather than alcohol that brought about her ruin, a court was told yesterday.

Over a period of three years Mrs Anderson is said to have given her therapist ?250,000, which was spent on jewellery, a skiing holiday and a new car.

Mary McCullagh, the counsellor, is alleged to have promised Mrs Anderson that she would repay the money when her elderly ?Aunt Flo? died, as she was expecting a bequest worth at least ?9 million.

But Bournemouth Crown Court was told that the aunt was as much a figment of Mrs McCullagh?s imagination as the lung cancer and multiple sclerosis that she used to win the sympathy of her wealthy client.

At first Mrs Anderson had sought treatment at the Priory Clinic in Roehampton, South London, but she was later referred to Mrs McCullagh?s practice in Bournemouth, Dorset.

James Patrick, for the prosecution, told the court that Mrs Anderson had been running an estate agency in 1992, but by 1995 was seeking help for her drink problem.

He said: ?If ever there was a goose that laid a golden egg it was Nicole Anderson. Mary McCullagh had the money, holidays, cars and watches ? there?s no dispute that she had them.

?But were they treats, gifts and presents; or were they tricked from the victim? We say Mary McCullagh knew all about Nicole Anderson and was to use that information to devastating effect.

?She started to manipulate Nicole Anderson. She started to talk about her Aunt Flo, or Florence, and what became the first of ever bigger and bigger lies. She said she was due to receive a very large inheritance, in fact an extremely large one, when Aunt Flo died.

?She said whatever Nicole lent her she would repay, with interest. It was all a fraud, but Nicole didn?t know that.?

The prosecution said that when Mrs Anderson began to have suspicions, her counsellor encouraged her to start drinking again. Over a number of years she handed over dozens of cheques to Mrs McCullagh, the largest being for ?70,000.

She eventually asked Mrs McCullagh to introduce her to Aunt Flo. Mrs McCullagh refused, saying that it would bring back bad memories.

Having extracted as much as she could from Mrs Anderson, Mrs McCullagh is then alleged to have turned her attentions to another victim, David Oliver, and conned him into giving her ?9,000.

Mr Patrick told the court that the two women had become friends and that Mrs Anderson relied on her therapist so much that she even sold her home in London to move closer to her. As their relationship developed, the sums Mrs Anderson handed over increased.

Mr Patrick said: ?By mid-1996 they had become more like friends and their relationship really began to change. Mary McCullagh told her she was struggling financially, so Nicole offered to loan her some money.?

In 1996 Mrs Anderson split from her husband, Paul. Two years later she moved to Fordingbridge in the New Forest to be closer to Mrs McCullagh.

Mr Patrick added: ?Nicole Anderson was running out of cash and took out a loan and gave most of it to Mary McCullagh. The money from the estate never arrived, so there were more elaborate stories. Being a counsellor, she knew which buttons to press.

?She said she was ill with multiple sclerosis and then said that she was dying from lung cancer. And she still said her inheritance was on its way.

?Nicole Anderson was beginning to drink and Mary McCullagh was trying to end her relationships because she didn?t want to lose [her] grip on the goose that laid the golden eggs.? Mr Patrick said that in 2000 Mrs Anderson finally reported Mrs McCullagh to the police. He said: ?By the time she had spoken up she had spent just short of ?250,000 on Mary McCullagh. The charges don?t add up to that amount, but they are only specimen charges.?

Mrs McCullagh, of Bournemouth, denies 14 charges of obtaining money and property by deception. The trial continues. 

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