A couple who were saved from homelessness by the owners of a seaside hotel repaid their hosts’ kindness by stealing almost every item from the property, a court was told.
Stewart and Vicky Headley turned up on the doorstep of the Clumber House Hotel in Skegness asking for accommodation saying they had nowhere else to stay for the winter.
The owners Sarah and Stephen Lawson initially gave them a room and then asked them to “hotel-sit” while the Lawsons left the UK to enjoy a four-month trip pleased at the knowledge their business was in safe hands.
But while they were away they started to become worried when Vicky Headley suddenly blocked Mrs Lawson from her Facebook page and then the couple learned from a neighbour that a removal van had been seen leaving the property having been loaded up from the hotel.
They cut short their holiday and flew back home to a scene of devastation.
A sofa, a bed, a bedside table, a television, curtains, kitchen appliances and crockery were all missing and the place was “filthy”. More than 80 items were missing valued at around £4,700.
The couple were not covered by their insurance as they had given the Headleys a key and allowed them to stay.
The couple were left feeling they had been the victims of a scam and were left so upset that they sold up. The hotel is now under new ownership.
Phil Howes, prosecuting, told Lincoln Crown Court “This offence was despicable.”
He said the Lawsons had been looking for someone to look after the hotel while they were away and said: “A solution appeared to be tailor-made when the defendants appeared looking for a winter let as the caravan park where they were staying was about to close.
“The defendants were model residents. They paid their money, kept the room clean and the couples became good friends.”
It was agreed that the Headleys could stay on to hotel-sit and they were allowed access to extra rooms so they could have family to stay.
Mr Howes said: “At the start of the holiday to India contact was regular by email and Facebook. The communication was chatty and Mrs Lawson was pleased that Vicky had her family to stay over.
“All that changed in February 2018. Contact became sporadic and concern then grew when Mrs Lawson was blocked from Vicky Headley’s Facebook page.”
Then the Lawsons learned the couple had left the hotel and were told by a neighbour that a van had taken items from the hotel.
They decided to abandon their holiday in India and return home to a scene of devastation.
Mr Howes said: “When they arrived back, they discovered they had been fleeced. Furniture was missing and other items had vanished. The hotel was in a filthy state.
“The contents of the bar had disappeared. The Lawsons felt they had been duped. They felt totally betrayed. They were devastated.”
The Lawsons contacted police and that led to the arrest of the Headleys. Stewart Headley claimed he had permission to take items while his wife denied staying at the hotel.
Sarah Lawson, in a victim impact statement, said: “It is difficult to explain what it is like to see your home trashed, your furniture gone, your kitchen appliances ripped out. You hear so many stories about scams you never think it would be you who would fall for it.
“We feel we’ve been groomed. They knocked on the door asking about a winter let and told us that they couldn’t stay in their caravan.
“We explained we didn’t open at winter but allowed them to stay. During the time they were with us they were model guests.
“I feel sick that this was all an act on their part. I was totally manipulated. It’s nothing short of humiliating.
“Because we had house sitters, I was not anxious about the hotel being empty and we were able to enjoy our travels. We’ve been ridiculously naïve and stupid.”
Stewart Headley, 42, and Vicky Headley, 35, who were living in High Street, Skegness at the time of their arrest, each admitted a charge of theft.
Stewart Headley was jailed for 17 months. Vicky Headley was given a 12-month jail sentence suspended for a year and 100 hours of unpaid work.
Recorder Graham Huston, passing sentence, told them: “The consequence of this is that you essentially destroyed the business. The lives of this couple have been destroyed.”
Jonathan Green, for Stewart Headley, said: “He was in a vicious spiral of increasing chaos due to drug and alcohol consumption. Effectively they had lost control of their lives. He feels disgusted with himself.”
Greg Purcell, for Vicky Headley, admitted: “This was a cruel betrayal of an act of kindness.”
He said she has expressed remorse for what she did and pleaded guilty to the offence.