WHEN LISA, 39, SUFFERED TWO MISCARRIAGES IN JUST A FEW MONTHS, SHE WAS DISTRAUGHT SO DECIDED TO SEEK COUNSELLING TO HELP HER COPE WITH THE ORDEAL.
IT WAS THEN SHE STARTED SPEAKING TO CHRISTINE, 47, WHO ADVERTISED HER SERVICES ON FACEBOOK. SHE LOOKED LIKE THE REAL DEAL BUT LITTLE DID LISA KNOW, COLD-HEARTED CHRISTINE WAS A CON WOMAN POSING AS A COUNSELLOR.
CHRISTINE FLEECED VULNERABLE LISA OUT OF £185 FOR NINE SESSIONS, IN WHICH LISA REVEALED HER INNER MOST THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS.
BUT LISA SOON REALISED CHRISTINE WASN’T ALL SHE HAD MADE OUT TO BE AND REPORTED HER TO POLICE.
Sat in my lounge with a cup of tea, I poured my heart out and an overwhelming sense of relief washed over me.
At first I didn’t know where to turn for help, as my whole world came crumbling down around me, and I hadn’t confided in anyone or let on just how low I was.
After enduring the agony of two miscarriages in just a few months, I was feeling worse than ever and I knew I needed to seek professional help and advice.
Rambling on and revealing my inner most thoughts and feelings to a virtual stranger seemed to be helping – or at least that’s what I thought.
My ‘counsellor’ Christine Stevens, 47, was a mutual friend and we had connected through Facebook.
My relationship status had changed to single, after splitting with my partner, Tony, through the strain of losing two longed for babies and when Christine spotted we had broken up she posted a comment to check if I was ok.
‘I don’t mean to pry, but I’ve seen what you’ve been going through and I hope you’re alright,’ it read.
We hadn’t really spoken before but when I saw her kind words they cheered me up.
I noticed that she was a counsellor. Her profile had her occupation listed as Head of Therapeutic Services at Cheshire East Council, so immediately I felt at ease.
I knew I needed to talk to someone and she looked like the right person.
We exchanged messages through Facebook and arranged to meet.
Christine was more than happy to provide me with counselling sessions and even said she would charge me a discounted rate of £20 as she knew how difficult the past few years had been for me.
‘I do see people in the office but I can come to your house as well,’ she told me. ‘You’ll probably feel more comfortable discussing everything at home.’
Turning up on the doorstep in smart office wear and with a lanyard and identity badge around her neck, she looked like the real deal.
She pulled out paperwork for me to fill in my personal details, so all seemed to be above board.
When I first confided in her I felt as if a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders.
I told her all about my previous marriage and the bitter divorce I had been through.
She knew how I had been left to bring up our young son, now five, on my own and had to sell my house.
I opened up about my dad Ken’s battle with cancer and sudden death in 2009 and how my mum, Hilary, and I had cared for him in his last few months.
She knew just how badly watching him take his last breath had affected me.
A few days after his funeral, my mum’s back was giving her grief. In agony and unable to move, she saw a specialist doctor and was told she needed an emergency operation or she would be paralysed.
She underwent surgery straight away and I was left to care for her for months until she recovered.
There just seemed to be blow after blow of terrible things happen and Christine knew everything.
I asked for receipts of payment and Christine provided them by email with invoices baring the authority’s logo and the initials of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) – implying she was an accredited member of the body.
We arranged to meet on a weekly basis and I felt so lucky that Christine was able to squeeze me into her busy schedule whenever I needed a chat.
But quickly things seemed to take a turn.
During the appointments I started to notice that Christine was focusing on my relationship issues with Tony and she started dishing out some advice.
‘Surely she shouldn’t be telling me what to do or talking about other cases,’ I thought to myself as Christine referred to other clients she claimed to have been counselling.
But that was only the start of things to come…
Christine’s conduct quickly became even more questionable.
‘Do you mind meeting in Costa?’ she asked one week.
I was hesitant at first but she was doing me a favour giving me all the sessions at such short notice and she said she was seeing other people in the area so it would be more convenient.
Tucked into a corner of the coffee shop I felt worried about engaging in a private conversation in such a public place.
Then she asked if I wanted to go to the pantomime as I needed cheering up.
I was taken aback by her strange suggestion but assumed she was just trying to be friendly and help so gave her £30 in cash for three tickets for my mum, son and me.
When I couldn’t make a session the next week she started saying she wasn’t sure she could come to the theatre anymore.
It made me feel incredibly uncomfortable, almost as though I was being blackmailed.
In the end I got fed up and asked for the money for the tickets back and she started to kick up a fuss.
I had forked out £185 for nine counselling sessions, when alarm bells started ringing.
Eventually I plucked up the courage to tell a close friend what had been going on.
She immediately thought all was not right and told me to lodge a complaint with Christine’s employers.
But when I tried to contact the local council the full nature of the nightmare began to unfold…
Unhappy about Christine’s inappropriate behaviour I requested she give me the land line number and name of her manager.
But when she said she didn’t have an office number, I became suspicious and took matters into my own hands.
Realising I was on to her, Christine started to send me nasty text messages.
I called the council and asked for Christine and her department and neither seemed to exist.
It took me some time to get my head around what was happening, but I began to approach all of the organisations Christine claimed to have links with.
They all came back saying they had never heard of her.
Armed with written responses from all the bodies, as well as forged receipts and council documents from Christine for my ‘counselling’ sessions, I went to the police.
I showed them print outs of her Facebook pages too.
The cold-hearted con woman had duped me when I was at my most vulnerable.
She had a history of dishonesty but her callous deception was soon uncovered this time.
She told police she was unemployed but classed herself as a private counsellor.
She admitted having no links to the council or being a member of the BACP and pleaded guilty to fraud by misrepresentation at South Cheshire Magistrates Court.
Christine was ordered to repay the cash and carry out 120 hours of unpaid work.
She was also made the subject of a 12-month supervision order and told to pay £85 costs plus a £65 victim surcharge.
What she has put me through affected me deeply and caused me major anguish, distress and upset.
I feel as if I am always looking over my shoulder and I don’t know who I can trust any more.
I was looking for help and believed I could pay for a service and receive one, but Christine has shattered my confidence and left me in a worse place than I was in beforehand.
She left me feeling as if my soul had been burgled.
I was under the impression she worked for the council so assumed she would have had the relevant experience, qualifications and checks done on her.
Now I’m speaking to a fully qualified counsellor and I’ve had hypnotherapy which means I’m in a much better place.
I just hope other people aren’t duped like I was.
I would urge anyone seeking counselling to check credentials thoroughly.