A St Helens couple who masterminded a sophisticated land banking fraud which duped hundreds of people out of more than £3m, leaving many in financial ruin, have been jailed for a total of 11 years.
John Chandler, 60, known as Jack, of Clock Face Road, St Helens, who was head of sales and marketing at the company involved, received seven years and his wife, Jeanette, 61, of the same address, was put behind bars for four years
Businessman Timothy Wren from The Common, Parbold, was in the dock along with four others involved in the fraud plot and they received sentences totalling 21 years.
Judge Andrew Menary, QC, said, “Everyone involved was driven by greed and the potential for huge financial gain.”
Liverpool Crown Court heard that the seven year fraud involved an elaborate scheme to dishonestly mis-sell portions of green belt land on a site in Studley Road, Redditch, Worcestershire using misleading information.
Wren, 40 used a variety of companies to acquire the 38-acre site for the cheap price of £250,000 as it had no development potential. He then arranged for architects to draw a site plan for more than 400 plots, many described as for a three or four bedroomed houses, and infrastructure including roads and recreational spaces.
The plots, that had cost £500 to buy were sold for more than £15,000 frequently as a result of targeted phone calls by a sales team to people who had shown some interest in land investments.
Peter Grieves-Smith, prosecuting, said that Wren and his right hand man Kevin Hilton, whose company Land Banking (UK) Plc had bought the land, commissioned experts to do a planning permission appraisal - and the report made it plain the chances of planning permission was almost non-existent.
Despite this the site plan was drawn up to market the land and purchasers, from all walks of life, “were given the firm impression that planning permission would be obtained for the site and their initial investment would yield impressive rewards.
“They were persuaded to invest by silver-tongued salesman supported by convincing websites and brochures. Those brochures gave the impression that the vendors had real expertise in this area of land investment and it was a wise an safe investment.
“The truth was totally different. The investors were to find they own a plot of land in a field which was of little if any value,” he said.
Land Banking (UK) also purchased four other plots of land in Kirkby, Merseyside; Nantwich and Chesterfield in 2006 which netted a further £3.5m for the fraudsters. However the defendants, who were convicted after a lengthy trial, only faced a conspiracy to defraud involving the Studley Road land.
Office manager 42-year-old Hilton, of Oak Drive, Burscough, West Lancashire, who was only involved for two and a half years, was jailed for six years; John Chandler, 60, known as Jack, of Clock Face Road, St Helens, who was head of sales and marketing, received seven years and his wife, Jeanette, 61, of the same address, was put behind bars for four years as was Alfred Arthur, 57, of Deepdale, Leigh.
The court heard that many of the innocent victims, some vulnerable, have been left struggling financially having parted with savings or inheritance cash.
Mr Grieves-Smith said that these included a a woman teacher in Birmingham, who used money earmarked for her children’s further education, was blamed by her husband for the loss and it has led to their divorce.
Another woman who lost £55,000 was left too guilty ridden and ashamed to tell friends what had happened and suffered depression and panic attacks after the con came to light.
Jailing the defendants Judge Menary said he was satisfied they all knew or realised that there was never any intention of seeking planning permission and also knew that without such a prospect each individual plot was essentially worthless.
Wren was banned from holding directorships for 15 years and his co-accused for five years each.