A “heartless” wedding planner who conned dozens of vulnerable victims out of thousands of pounds in a “campaign of planned and callous frauds” has been jailed for five years.
Dana Twidale, 44, “blighted” the weddings of 24 couples when she took payment for services that she did not deliver, leaving them angry, stressed and losing money they had “saved and scrimped” to make their days special, Hull Crown Court heard.
Twidale, who used the money to fund a gambling problem and a month-long holiday to Spain, also lied about being a domestic violence victim, that her mother had died and her brother had tried to commit suicide, in order to defraud people she knew.
Twidale, from Hull, East Yorkshire, admitted 26 counts of fraud by false representation totalling about £60,000, during an earlier hearing before magistrates.
At her sentencing on Monday, Hull Crown Court heard that she defrauded the couples by offering services for their weddings that she never intended to provide.
Dale Brook, prosecuting, read out victim personal statements from a number of the couples, who described the stress and anxiety they felt at not knowing if their weddings would be able to go ahead, and having to pay for services they had already paid Twidale for, and could not afford.
One couple said: “I just do not have the words to describe how anyone with any morals could do this to anybody. I just cannot believe anybody could be so heartless.”
Another couple, who had to sacrifice their honeymoon to pay for their wedding, said: “Because of Dana Twidale, I look back at my wedding day and, rather than thinking of the good things, I am constantly reminded of what she put us through.”
One bride described Twidale as a “selfish con artist” and said: “I’m still affected by what she did. I feel duped, hurt and anger, all caused by her, a woman I welcomed into my home.”
Others said they “don’t know how she can sleep at night” and described her as a “cold, malicious, calculating person who has no thoughts or feelings for other people planning what is the most significant day of their lives”.
Judge Mark Bury said: “Those frauds, 24 of them in total, amount to something in the order of £15,000.
“Not, in the grand scheme of things, a large amount of money, but to each and every one of those victims it meant a lot.
“The majority of them had saved and scrimped, gone without, to pay you to make their day special and you went off to Spain with the money, or to the local bookmakers I imagine.”
He added: “It’s a minor miracle, it seems to me, that none of those weddings were completely ruined, but it’s blighted their days and, for a bride, one of the best days of their lives has been affected by you.”
Opening the case earlier, Mr Brook told how Twidale had also defrauded Nigel Wainwright, a man she had met on Tinder, out of £42,000, and Fiona Barker, a woman she met while working at a funeral directors that dealt with the funeral of Ms Barker’s son, out of £650.
Mr Brook said: “The defendant has engaged in a campaign of planned and callous frauds.”
The barrister said Twidale told Mr Wainwright “highly calculated and emotive lies” – including exploiting his grief at his father’s death with the “cunning and abhorrent” false claim that her mother had died – in order to extract money from him.
She also told him she was a victim of domestic abuse, sending him photos of a black eye and bruising, which she later admitted was make-up.
In his statement, Mr Wainwright, who Twidale described to police as “a geek”, said he thought she was “that special person” he had never had before and she left him a financial and emotional “wreck”.
He said: “I believe she was cold and calculating and targeted me deliberately.”
Mr Brook told the court that Twidale “preyed” on the fact that Ms Barker’s son had committed suicide by telling her she was in hospital after her brother tried to take his own life.
The claim “resonated” with Ms Barker, who pawned her phone to send Twidale £650.
Ms Barker said she thought Twidale was a “true friend” and had asked her to be her maid of honour.
She said in her victim personal statement: “The thing that pains me most is the hurt she caused to me and others.”
Twidale was arrested after she returned from Spain in August 2019.
Michele Stuart-Lofthouse, defending, said Twidale accepted responsibility for what she had done.
She said: “What she recognises is that her actions have left all individuals emotionally distressed and with a loss of money.”
Judge Bury said her actions were “shameful”, as he jailed her for five years.