A CON artist took thousands of pounds from innocent retirees who thought he was preparing their funerals, a court heard.

Mark Kerbey, 55, of Station Road, Westcliff, denies three counts of fraud by misrepresentation after three people claimed he took money for funerals which were not arranged.

The court heard Kerbey, also known as Richard Sage, met with them separately and went through detailed negotiations and discussions to plan their funerals.

The offences are all alleged to have taken place between August 2012 and October 2014 with the trial opening at Basildon Crown Court yesterday.

David Baird, prosecuting, said: “I don’t know how many of you think about death but this concerns three people who did and approached Mark Kerbey to arrange their funerals in advance and had paid for them in advance.”

The first alleged victim was an elderly man who paid £4,500 to a company called Mayer Funeral Homes, owned by Kerbey, to put in place funeral plans for his wife and himself.

Mr Baird said: “He paid this for his funeral thinking that when they died, everything would be taken care of.

“He then becomes aware that all may not have been what it seemed so he went back to Kerbey but was reassured that everything was fine and everything was in place but that was far from the truth.

“When the victim approached the company later, there were no funeral plans in place and he ended up £4,500 out of pocket.”

The jury, made up of ten women and two men, then heard claims similar incidents had happened with two other couples, one of whom had allegedly lost £3,300.

Mr Baird said: “It wasn’t until the second victim and his wife became unwell they decided to see if everything was in place and discovered Mayer Funeral Homes was no longer and Penrose had taken over.

“When he asked some questions of the plan there was no record of it and no record of payment.”

Another couple are £3,000 out of pocket, the court heard.

The court heard the victims of the alleged fraud will not be giving evidence because the fact they paid money to Kerbey for the planning and provision of their funerals is not disputed by either party.

Instead the jury will be presented with financial evidence and will hear from former colleagues and employees.

Kerbey, who appeared in the dock on crutches and with his right arm in a sling, had formally changed his name in 2011 from Richard Sage.

Kerbey has denied all three charges.

The trial, which opened before recorder Philip Brook-Smith QC, is set to last three days at Basildon Crown Court.