Single mothers Heather Neal and Melanie Poynter thought they had bagged the man of their dreams when they both accepted proposals from David Andrews.
The lothario said he was Royal Marine who had fought in Afghanistan and also fought and won his own battle with brain cancer.
But when they opened their hearts and homes to him, he turned out to be nothing more than a despicable thief and conman who spun a web of lies about his illness and shamefully made up stories about his armed service.
Andrews tweeted pictures of his father’s funeral, even though he was still alive; and he stole an iPad off Melanie’s 14-year-old daughter, while she was in hospital having treatment for a rare kidney disorder.
Andrews, 32, was caught when one of his brave victims lured him into a trap at her home where the police were waiting to arrest him and throw him in jail.
Now Heather and Melanie want to warn others to beware of their fraudster fiancé before he has the chance to con his way into another relationship.
Heather, from Spixworth in Norwich, says: “When I found out about his lies, I sold his engagement ring and bought a toaster with it, out of spite.
“He made me feel so foolish!”
Thirty-seven-year-old Heather met Andrews in June of 2012 on dating site Plenty of Fish. She says at the time he seemed like a real catch.
“He told me he had a good job, liked the same things as me: parachuting, base-jumping, adventure,” she said.
“He even sent me a picture of him jumping out of a plane for charity. And when he told me he’d had business meetings with Top Shop mogul, Philip Green, I don’t mind admitting, I fell for him completely.
“I was really touched by his cancer story. I thought he’d been through so much and I was genuinely compassionate toward him. I loved him, and so did my daughter, Hollie, 15.
“I know now that was his way of bending us around his little finger.”
Within a couple of weeks, Andrews told Heather his father had passed away and he had to attend the funeral.
When Heather rang the crematorium to check the details, they had no record of it.
Andrews said there’s been a misunderstanding. Later, he tweeted pictures of the hearse, saying: ‘Final good byes (sic) are always the hardest’.
It was the first of many alarm bells to ring for Heather. “I knew something wasn’t right from the very start,” she says.
“Then he got a mortgage offer in principle of £400K. He promised us a new home, with a pool, and a new computer for Hollie.
“We found a house, had the offer accepted, and booked a holiday to Florida
“But then David’s ‘cancer’ came back. It was a devastating blow. He lost his job, the house sale fell through, and we had to call the travel agents to cancel the booking.”
Heather’s second warning sign came when she tried to cancel the holiday, and to her shock, was told they had received no booking. “At the time I couldn’t understand it,” she says.
“But I didn’t press the issue because he was going through ‘chemo’. It didn’t seem fair.
“I took him to the hospital every day for two weeks for blood tests and chemotherapy. He never wanted me to come in, so I just waited in the car.
“When he came out, he’d show me the puncture wounds in his arm and chest suggesting he’d received injections. I just never questioned it.
“He looked ill. When he would come back from one of his ‘chemo sessions’, he’d sleep for hours in the middle of the day. I genuinely thought he was seriously ill.”
But something about Andrews’ story didn’t add up for Heather and she began searching online for information about his family.
When she found a recent picture of Andrews’ dad, looking very much alive, she decided to get in touch with his family.
After meeting his sisters and mother, they confirmed Heather’s worse fears: he had lied about his father, about his parachuting, and about his ‘good job’. “It was at this time that my daughter’s iPad went missing,” she says.
“David offered to help me look for it, even rang round the local Cash Converters for me. Hollie was distraught.
“But something made me put his name down as a ‘person of interest’ on the police statement.”
Heather carried on seeing Andrews despite the massive discrepancies in his stories. The couple got engaged, and Heather now believes he used the money from the stolen iPad to buy the ring
“I felt sorry for him. I knew he was having a rough time with his illness and I forgave his lies,” she says.
“I agreed to give him another chance.
“I took time off work to take him to more hospital appointments – I even went with his sister on more than one occasion.
“But at the last minute the appointments either got cancelled or changed to a different date, or David was too ill to go.
“When he told me he was on a waiting list for radiotherapy, I decided to contact his consultant directly.
According to Heather, the consultant confirmed that there was no waiting list for radiotherapy, and moreover that David was not being seen by him, or anyone in that department.
“I was heart-broken,” she says. “I couldn’t believe he had lied to me about having cancer. It was too despicable.”
Heather spoke to Andrews’ family about it and they were just as shocked and angry, and after confronting him, made the decision to end the relationship.
Two weeks later, Heather discovered that she was pregnant. “I contacted David, and we agreed to try to work through the lies for the sake of the child,” she says.
“My daughter had never stopped seeing her father, and I didn’t want a situation where my baby wouldn’t know his or hers.”
In April, Heather tragically suffered a catastrophic miscarriage in April 2013 that forced her to undergo surgery.
“The relationship didn’t last long beyond that point.”
“More lies about his illness emerged. Apparently now he had bladder cancer. I called the hospital to confirm his appointment and to ask about his treatment.
“Three separate receptionists told me he wasn’t having treatment for bladder cancer.
“I confronted him the next day, and again, he denied it all.
“I walked out and that was the last time I saw him. However it wasn’t the last time I would hear from him.”
Devastated mum-of-two, Melanie, from Cromer, Norfolk, met Andrews in September 2013 in Chicago’s nightclub in Norwich. He told her he was a Royal Marine and had been given the all clear in 2012 after having brain cancer.
“He was with a friend who backed up everything he said,” says the 33-year-old.
“He told me harrowing stories about killing people in Afghanistan. Sometimes when his phone rang, it would flash up with the name LT Richards.
“He was caring and charming, and he could talk all night about his military service and his cancer – he spoke about both with such detail. I had no reason to doubt him.
“My daughter Natasha, 14, and son, Finlay, 5, doted on him.”
Within two months of being together, Andrews proposed. The ring was too big, but they immediately started planning the wedding.
“We met with a vicar and booked the church. David told him he was a Royal Marine.
“I felt proud to be getting married to someone who had fought for his country, and beaten a cancer diagnosis.”
A few weeks after their engagement, a friend of Melanie’s, who served in the army, said he’d never heard of the particular regiment Andrews said he belonged to.
Her friend said no one knew him or had heard of him.
“When I approached him about it, he decided to tell me his brain cancer had come back,” says Melanie.
Once again, Andrews faked his illness to ingratiate himself into a woman’s life, and sympathies.
He relied on friends to back up his stories, and this time, even invited Melanie along to an appointment with a GP.
Throughout the appointment, Melanie says, they only discussed an ear infection.
“When I brought up the cancer, the GP said it was something they would have to look into.
“It was very strange, but he didn’t write it off completely, so I assumed David was telling the truth.”
Toward the end of 2013, Melanie’s daughter, Natasha, who had been battling a rare kidney disorder, was rushed into Norfolk Norwich University hospital.
Melanie says she asked David to take Natasha’s iPad home to charge it, so she could use it to keep her friends updated on her condition.
“I was staying over-night with Natasha. When he came back the next day, and I asked him for the iPad, he said he’d forgotten it.
“I rang him later that night to ask him where he’d left it, as I couldn’t find it. He said he’d left it charging in the bedroom.”
David went so far as to accuse Melanie’s live-in babysitter of stealing it, and had her doubting all of her friends.
The iPad contained the only pictures and video Melanie had of her daughter taking part in the Olympic Torch relay in 2012.
Shortly after, her four-year-old son’s iTouch went missing too, along with Melanie’s Nokia Lumia smart phone, a Nintendo DS, and an X-box Kinect console.
“I was certain David had something to do with them going missing,” Melanie says. “There was no forced entry, and I trusted my babysitter with my kids’ lives.
“When I confronted him about it, he pretended to pass out. I went to call an ambulance but he refused to go.
“I told my friends I doubted him; that I didn’t believe his cancer story and suspected his military career.
“David had shown me pictures of men in uniform, fighting in the desert – when I showed them to my friend who was in the army, he immediately recognised them from an armed services magazine.”
Melanie finally had it out with Andrews in December of 2013 but once again, as he had done with Heather, he denied everything.
“I’m not thick, but I felt so stupid for having fallen for it. I wanted to be wrong – I never wanted to be conned.”
She rang the police who asked her if she could arrange for him to be at her property.
“So I rang him, and said maybe we could work it, could he come to mine to talk.
“I was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. But I went through with it, and when he arrived, the police were waiting for him.”
Heather, believing she had heard the last of Andrews, was contacted by police.
She was told Andrews had been arrested for stealing another woman’s iPad and that his name appeared on a search of people of interest.
Andrews was charged with two counts of theft, and one of false representation.
David pleaded guilty at Crown court, but denied that he had lied about the cancer.
Later he changed his plea relating to the theft of Heather’s iPad, to not guilty, forcing a trial.
“I was devastated, and so angry,” says Heather. “It was truly pathetic.
“Then the judge gave him four weeks to prove he had cancer. He didn’t provide anything.”
He was sentenced to 20 months for two thefts and fraud at Norwich Crown Court on the 27th June 2014.
Jailing David for 20 months, Judge Stephen Holt branded the defendant a “liar” who told “lie after lie” and managed to “wheedle his way” into the lives of vulnerable women who were both single parents who were struggling to bring up families.
Judge Holt said: “The lies you told were quite incredible. The bigger the lie the more likely people are to believe it.”
He added: “In my view what you did was utterly despicable.
“This is one of the worst types of case, on its facts, of this particular offence that I’ve come across.”
The court heard that while Heather waited in her car for him outside the hospital he would simply wander around the corridors to waste time and make her think he was seeing a doctor.
Chris Youell, prosecuting, said: “Essentially he was living a lie, creating a back story to ingratiate himself to these women and when in these relationships committed these offences.”
Heather and Melanie, who met at court, have become good friends, and have been there for each since the trial. They are even arranging a playdate for their daughters who are of a similar age.
“A feeling of relief swept over us,” says Heather. “Now everyone knows who he really is and the police are urging people to come forward if they recognise him from similar situations.
“But Melanie and I are strong women, and we’re ready to move on.”