Was the woman who moved Holly and Phil with her sob story of having dementia at 39 nothing but a fraud? Trio ‘scammed council out of £734,000’ after This Morning guest’s mother faked a neurological illness
Heart-rending interviews are the staple of daytime TV, but as Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield listened to one young woman tell her story they were visibly moved.
Reassured by her husband, also called Philip, who sat beside her on the ITV This Morning sofa, Laura Borrell, then 39, described how it felt to be one of the youngest people to have been diagnosed with dementia.
With commendable poise and courage (and remarkable lucidity, given that she had said her thoughts and words often became scrambled) she told the show’s hosts it was only a matter of time before she lost the capacity to remember people and events. Yet she was determined to make the most of life before that happened.
As she loved to travel, a return trip to America, where she and Philip spent their honeymoon, was top of her bucket list. Eager to experience the U.S. ‘culture’ one last time, she had ‘this mad idea’ for them to drive from coast to coast in a dormer vehicle. ‘It’s tapping into those memories that I already have and reinforcing them as much as humanly possible,’ she said, impressing Holly and Phil with her uplifting attitude.
As Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield listened to one young woman tell her story they were visibly moved. Reassured by her husband, also called Philip, who sat beside her on the ITV This Morning sofa, Laura Borrell, then 39, described how it felt to be one of the youngest people to have been diagnosed with dementia
Though Borrell’s mother had set up a GoFundMe appeal to pay for her adventures, Borrell pointed out that she wouldn’t be the only beneficiary. The campaign would heighten awareness of early-onset dementia and raise money for research. All this was said with smiles and even an occasional giggle.
Her mood only darkened when she was invited to comment on the failure of NHS neurologists to detect her condition. ‘They were vile. They were so rude to me,’ she spat, claiming to have been dismissed as a ‘hysterical white female’.
Their scepticism had led her to fear that she might be ‘crazy’. Borrell — who was reportedly paid £3,000 for that interview — told a similar story to Channel 5 News and many other magazines and newspapers.
Fast forward four years from her tear-jerking appearances and many of those moved to donate towards Borrell’s globe-trotting jaunts might rightly wonder whether they were crazy, too.
For this week it emerged that she and Philip — with her mother, Frances Noble — admit pulling off one of the most lucrative and audacious stings ever perpetrated against a local authority.
And they did it, according to fraud investigators, by exaggerating — yes, you guessed it — a neurological illness.
This time the supposed sufferer was 66-year-old Noble.
Laura Borrell on one of her foreign trips. Fast forward four years from her tear-jerking appearances and many of those moved to donate towards her globe-trotting jaunts might have a rethink. For this week it emerged that she and Philip — with her mother, Frances Noble — admit pulling off one of the most lucrative and audacious stings ever perpetrated against a local authority
Between 2005 and 2018, she allegedly convinced Hertfordshire County Council that she was suffering from such a serious condition that she required intensive home care at her bungalow in Datchworth, near Stevenage.
The council awarded her a ‘direct payment care package’ which allows people with disabilities, or their family members and friends, to choose carers and equipment and settle the bills themselves using a pre-paid credit card.
Prosecutors say Noble claimed care costing £733,936.20 over the 13 years. The trio are said to have kept the money, or a substantial portion of it, for themselves.
Officials at St Albans Crown Court say all three have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to dishonestly make false representations for gain. The Borrells also admit acquiring criminal property (or money-laundering), an offence carrying a maximum prison term of 14 years. They will be sentenced on June 24.
Of course, Borrell’s admission of guilt in respect of her mother’s duplicity does not mean she was lying when she claimed to be suffering from dementia. Indeed, through her lawyer, she maintains that her ‘neurological illness’ is genuine and she continues to receive treatment.
As I have learned while investigating this squalid saga, however, there is yet a further twist. One that entitles us to question whether this deceitful family enterprise might have spanned not two generations, but three.
The suspicion stems from an article published on September 19, 2018, by The Welwyn Hatfield Times, then Noble’s local paper. Since this small publication sells fewer than 2,300 copies, the interview she gave hardly made waves.
However, she used it to draw attention to yet another fund-raising campaign she was launching, this time via the JustGiving platform.
Noble — who, remember, is 39-year-old ‘dementia patient’ Laura Borrell’s mother — claimed that her own mother, Daisy O’Sullivan was being neglected at the ‘understaffed’ Lister Hospital in Stevenage while suffering from dementia and in the final stages of terminal bowel disease.
Noble said she needed £20,000 for home care for her 90-year-old mother, so that she could ‘die with dignity’ in the tiny bungalow where she had lived for many years, a stone’s throw from her own.
The Borrells carried out their scam, according to fraud investigators, by exaggerating — yes, you guessed it — a neurological illness. This time the supposed sufferer was 66-year-old Noble (pictured with her daughter)
Providing the paper with highly emotive photos of her frail mother lying in her hospital bed with an oxygen tube under her nose, Noble claimed she was left to lie in her excrement at night and went without water for hours. ‘They are the forgotten generation. They fought wars and now they are expected to die like this,’ she fumed, highlighting her mother’s service as a World War II auxiliary nurse.
The East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust said her care was monitored daily and was appropriate for her needs. How much did this appeal raise? As the JustGiving page can no longer be accessed, we don’t know.
What we do know, however, is that Daisy O’Sullivan never did come home. As Mrs O’Sullivan’s great nephew David Barker tells me, with a theatrically raised eyebrow, she died in hospital.
But then, there wasn’t much time for Noble to organise her mother’s ‘dignified’ end. The death certificate shows that she passed away on September 22, 2018, three days after that article was published.
So, what do we know of this fundraising family?
By all accounts, Daisy was a well-liked pillar of her Hertfordshire village, where she raised three children, including Noble, and lived on a council-built estate.
As for Noble, records filed with Companies House in 2016 list her profession as social worker. She married twice. Her second husband, music teacher Dale Noble, told me they met when he was giving flute lessons to Laura — then a bright and studious schoolgirl.
They married in 1988, but separated — ‘not particularly amicably’ — just six years later, he says, declining to elaborate. Did Noble show any symptoms of neurological disease when they were together? ‘No,’ says her ex-husband flatly.
Was she notably materialistic? ‘Not for herself, no, but she always wanted the best for Laura. That doesn’t make her a bad person.’ It doesn’t. But Mr Noble says he lost touch with his ex-wife long ago; and in 2005, four years after they were divorced, her descent into crime began.
When the case is outlined at the sentencing hearing next month, details of how she and the Borrells duped the council will be spelled out.
However, insight is provided by David Barker, who lives opposite the housing association bungalow and called in most days to walk Noble’s Scottish Terrier. About that time, he says, she started staying in bed all day and her requests for help became ever more demanding.
Among her few visitors were Laura and Philip Borrell, who lived a few miles away. At first, they would arrive in an ‘old banger’, and Laura usually wore ‘baggy jumpers and jeans’. Then her outfits became smarter and they bought a new Volvo, he says.
Noble was also visited by a woman who befriended her on Facebook. Having driven for 90 minutes from Surrey, the visitor was confronted by this ‘frail little old lady with a white face, lying back on her pillows’ who claimed she could move only her right arm.
When the woman, who asked not to be named, asked what had become of her carers, the patient said they always went out when she had guests.
‘I assumed she had motor neurone disease but now I think it was more like Munchausen’s syndrome [the psychological disorder where people feign illness],’ she told me, adding angrily: ‘I also gave money to Laura’s appeal when she said she wanted to ‘make memories’ with that trip across America. I don’t believe that now. I think they are money-grabbing criminals.’
In Portsmouth, Liz Valette, 78, another member of the Facebook group who donated to Laura’s fund, says she suspected something was awry after spotting that Noble sometimes used foreign aliases when appealing on her daughter’s behalf online.
Launching Laura’s GoFundMe appeal, in 2016, she called herself Francesca Ni Shuilleabhain, using an Italian version of her first name and translating her maiden surname — O’Sullivan — into Irish.
Between 2005 and 2018, Laura (above with her husband) allegedly convinced Hertfordshire County Council that Noble was suffering from such a serious condition that she required intensive home care at her bungalow in Datchworth, near Stevenage. Prosecutors say Noble claimed care costing £733,936.20 over the 13 years. The trio are said to have kept the money, or a substantial portion of it, for themselves
Meanwhile, in Weston, where Laura and Philip Borrell bought a modern, four-bedroom townhouse, neighbours began to wonder how they paid for their increasingly lavish lifestyle.
From the stream of luxury items delivered by Amazon — computers, flashy bikes, expensive household goods — and their frequent extended holidays, they appeared to have won the Lottery.
They had hardly seemed destined to acquire such wealth when they married, a decade earlier. In her University of London alumni profile, Borrell states that she passed nine GCSEs and four A-levels before working for the Metropolitan Police for nine years (in what capacity she doesn’t say).
As a mature student, in 2014, she enrolled for a law degree; but since she says her illness curtailed her studies, it seems she didn’t graduate.
She also lists a brief spell as a ‘private barrister’ and a ‘professional’ flute performance at the Royal College of Music, plus various legal and linguistic skills on her impressive CV.
In interviews, however, she claims to have been beset by illness from her youth and at 32, she says, she was diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which causes painful joints and digestive difficulties, and Hughes syndrome, which prevented her from having children. It was in 2014, three years into her marriage to Philip, a self-employed software project guru, that she says she began suffering symptoms of dementia.
She claims to have spent months ‘going back and forth’ for blood tests and brain scans before being diagnosed with ‘frontotemporal dementia’, a condition that seldom strikes anyone under 65. This was in June 2015, when she was 37.
For weeks, she and her husband were ‘shellshocked’, but by the following year they had recovered sufficiently to begin planning their travels, urged on by her mother who started fund-raising, she told Holly and Phil. To repeat, though the Borrells admit conspiring to commit a massive medical fraud, she insists her own neurological illness is true, and — as yet — there is no evidence to the contrary.
In Weston, where Laura and Philip Borrell bought a modern, four-bedroom townhouse, neighbours began to wonder how they paid for their increasingly lavish lifestyle
That said, combing through her many interviews, she doesn’t appear to have identified the specialist who made the diagnosis.
And while he wouldn’t discuss her specific case, Professor James Rowe, a leading expert on frontotemporal dementia, said he had found the condition in only about ten patients in their 30s during his 15-year career.
Moreover, as the disease tended to be more aggressive in younger sufferers, life expectancy would only be about six or seven years. ‘By seven years, I would expect them to be either mute, extremely disabled, or sadly to have succumbed to the disease,’ he told the Mail. By her own account, Laura Borrell is eight years into her illness.
In 2018, Hertfordshire council’s fraud investigation team began probing claims that her mother, Frances Noble, was greatly ‘exaggerating’ her disability. According to David Barker, they were tipped off by Noble’s neighbours, who saw how mobile she was. Soon after, she moved in with Borrells.
Around the time that the balloon went up, however, all three abruptly flew off to start a new life in Berlin. One neighbour recalls how, before leaving, they dumped many recently acquired luxury items in a skip, which villagers were invited to scavenge.
Their townhouse was put up for sale for about £400,000, but it has since been repossessed. A spokesman said when it is sold, the council will seek to recover every penny of the £734,000 Noble received.
Rather artlessly, we might think, Noble announced their move on Facebook. They’d decided to depart for Berlin because Philip had landed a new job there, she said, leaving friends to wonder how someone paralysed and in need of intensive home care could up sticks and live overseas.
Given Laura Borrell’s apparently advanced state of dementia, the same might be asked of her.
After settling in the affluent suburb of Karolinenhof, though, she seems to have continued living life to the full. Talking to an online magazine, 18 months ago, Borrell, who speaks good German, said she had bonded with neighbours over their mutual love of dogs.
Borrell sells photos of her recent travels, to places such as Heidelberg Castle and the Black Forest, and shots of that ‘memory-reinforcing’ road-trip journey across the U.S, on the internet, charging £24.80 per print.
A few days ago, she and Philip — who originally denied the charges — returned to Hertfordshire to change their pleas to guilty. Noble is said to have remained in Germany. Though she, too, has admitted the fraud, she says she will do so only because she can no longer afford to fight the case.
She added tearfully: ‘We are not the dreadful people they’re trying to make us out to be.’
Perhaps not, but their guilty pleas would suggest otherwise.
All eyes now turn to her daughter. Laura Borrell’s condition will be closely scrutinised and, in time, we will surely find out whether or not she duped Holly and Phil with her emotionally charged story.
Additional reporting: Tim Stewart
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