'Callous' fraudster from Devon who tricked grieving relatives paying for funerals jailed

Steven Drinkwater, 47, illegally obtained more than £9,000 from grieving families and has been jailed for almost two years. Credit: West Midlands Police

A funeral worker from Devon who went on the run after defrauding grieving relatives who thought they were paying for funerals out of more than £9,000 has been jailed for almost two years.

Steven Drinkwater, 47, from Ottery St Mary in Devon, pleaded guilty to eight counts of fraud by false representation.

Victims included a mother with a stillborn daughter, bereaved spouses, and other parents who had lost children, according to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Drinkwater was jailed on Wednesday 7 February for 20 months at Wolverhampton Crown Court.

Between 2015 and 2016, Steven Drinkwater worked for a funeral director. 

For a year he persuaded families to pay cash for funerals so that he could pocket the money. 

In June 2015, a staff member overheard Drinkwater accepting a sale for a funeral package and witnessed cash being given to him. 

When asked if he had accepted a sale, Drinkwater said he hadn’t.

But the staff member further probed him and he eventually admitted to the sale.

He took almost a thousand pounds from his back pocket and handed it over. Drinkwater put his coat on, left, and never returned. 

In the following months, when the funeral directors called customers to settle their balances, they were told they had already done so - to Drinkwater. 

In some cases, Drinkwater had fraudulently forged customer signatures on paperwork. 

An investigation was launched and a police appeal was issued. He remained wanted until his arrest on 7 January 2024 after he was detained by police in Devon following a tipoff.

The 46-year-old pleaded guilty to eight counts of fraud and was sentenced to serve 10 months behind bars and a further 10 months on licence.

Any further offending in this period will mean he will return immediately to prison.

Detective Sergeant Isobel Griffiths, from Wolverhampton Police, said: “This was an awful crime in which Drinkwater callously targeted grieving families when they were at their most vulnerable.  

"He then went on the run, hoping to never have to face up to his crimes. 

“The company that Drinkwater worked for are also victims in this. They trusted him to take care of these grieving families and instead he took advantage. The company honoured all sales that Drinkwater dealt with to ensure no family was at a loss.

“The sentence today shows that we will never give up in getting justice for victims of crime.”