A Westcliff fraudster has avoided jail due to his serious health problems after he defrauded a vulnerable couple out of their funeral fund.

Mark Kerbey, 55, of Station Road, Westcliff, was found guilty in May of taking more than £3,000 from an innocent retired couple who trusted him with arranging their funerals.

Appearing at Basildon Crown Court yesterday for sentencing, Judge Philip Brook-Smith QC acknowledged the seriousness of Kerbey’s violation of trust when he defrauded elderly customers Mr and Mrs Aslett.

David Baird, prosecuting said: “The couple were seeking to make proper arrangements with limited funds, and once they realised they had lost these funds it caused them a lot of stress.”

Michael Aslett, who is registered disabled after suffering a stroke in 2013, stated during the trial that he had trusted Kerbey to take care of their funeral plans in order to take the financial strain off of their relatives.

Kerbey, who worked for Mayer Funeral Homes based in Bridgwater Drive, directed their payments to his personal bank account before being imprisoned on a separate charge of fraud in 2014.

During sentencing, concerns were raised about Kerbey’s severe health problems, including advanced heart disease and type two diabetes.

Judge Brook-Smith said: “The doctor has made clear that the defendant is a very unwell man with a very bleak prognosis.

“He has suffered with severe health problems for several years, and it is very unlikely that he would survive another prison sentence.”

He also stated that prison services had expressed concerns that a custodial facility would be unable to accommodate the round-the-clock medical attention required to support Kerbey, based on evidence from his previous prison stay, at HMP Thameside in Greenwich, which concluded in January 2017.

Kerbey, who changed his name from Richard Sage in 2011, has racked up more than 40 counts of fraud dating back to 1986, including scams relating to false CRB checks and apprenticeships.

Defence barrister Sarah O’Kane also asked the judge to consider the attempts Kerbey had made to rebuild his life since his release from prison last year alongside his poor health, including re-uniting with his two eldest sons.

Kerbey was handed a one year sentence suspended for one year and was placed under curfew at his home address for six months, which will be monitored via electronic tag between the hours of 8pm and 6am.

Any violation of the curfew, or a fresh fraud charge, could see Kerbey jailed for the full length of the sentence.

Kerbey was also instructed to pay compensation totalling £3,136 to Mr and Mrs Aslett, court costs of £3,500, and a victim surcharge of £140, which must be paid within six months.