College lecturer Mr Rees, an only child, lived with his parents in the house in Bede Road, Chadwell Heath, north-east London. His father Ernest died at the age of 76 in 1988 and his mother Gwendoline, 84, followed in 1999.
Mr Rees, who was unmarried, stayed in the house until his death in April 2012, when he was 72.
The homes of those who die intestate, like Mr Rees, pass into the hands of the Treasury Solicitor’s department. Known as ‘bona vacantia’ – Latin for ‘ownerless property’ – they are advertised on the department’s website, which is updated weekly, making it easy for squatters to find them and move in. If no one claims them they revert to state ownership and are sold.A sad tale, and a reminder to make a will, even if just to your favourite charity – why should the government profit from your lack of preparedness?
But it turns out there are worse things lurking than the government…
Two months ago, Miss Lauretta descended on Bede Road, where she asked a 14-year-old girl if the house was unoccupied. The following evening she returned with a locksmith who changed the front door locks.
Neighbours asked under whose authority she was acting after she apparently told the locksmith that she was a ‘solicitor’. She gave them a sheet of paper which quoted snippets from the Treasury Solicitor’s website about ‘bona vacantia’ properties.
She wrote on the paper: ‘I would rather see an empty house brought back into productive use than left to rot without even any insurance.’ She said she would soon be moving paying tenants into the house, with rents being paid to her.
Miss Lauretta told neighbours that she had ‘lots of other bona vacantia’ properties and one said: ‘She was so brazen. We asked her if she was a relative and all she would say was, “No, but I am legal. I am doing you a huge favour by putting tenants into the house”.’Right, and the rent you get will go straight to the Treasury, minus your administrative fee, I suppose?
After she left the shocked neighbours contacted their MP, Michael Gapes, and the Treasury Solicitor’s department. Mr Gapes, Labour member for Ilford South, got in touch with police, and the Treasury Solicitor’s department employed another locksmith to change the new locks.
Miss Lauretta, who runs three companies – Pridwen Properties Limited, Nander House Limited and Morgelay Limited – lives in Shoeburyness, near Southend-on-Sea, Essex.
When approached by the Daily Mail she said: ‘I am not prepared to discuss anything with you. What I do is my business.’Well, now everyone knows what your ‘business’ is, and more importantly, what your name is, let’s see just how well you do, eh?
Solicitor Richard Grosberg, former chairman of the Law Society’s Probate section, said: ‘Whatever this lady says it appears that she tried to steal a house rather like someone might try and steal a car.
‘While trespass is a civil matter I would have thought by breaking and entering into this property she has broken the criminal law. Impersonating a solicitor is also a criminal matter.’Don’t even bother expecting a response from the police.
A Scotland Yard spokesman said: ‘Officers assessed the information available and no criminal offence was apparent.’Didn't look very hard, did you?
A spokesman for the Treasury Solicitor said: ‘The property was very quickly secured and it was made clear to the person who attempted to take possession of it what the consequences of their actions could be.
‘Therefore, no formal civil or criminal action needed to be taken, but this will not always be the case.’Let’s hope not.
And the name rang a bell, but I couldn't recall just why, and so resorted to Google.
And that’s when the penny finally dropped.
But can it be the same person? If so, the brazen chutzpah of forever whinging to the local newspaper about the decline of the area she herself lives in puts a rather sour cherry on top of an already mouldy cake, doesn't it?