Career con man becomes most wanted fraudster in retirement

Police decide freed 'King of the Sting' is unlawfully at large as he heads for Australia. Jason Bennetto reports
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Britain's most notorious con man yesterday became its most wanted fraudster as he announced his retirement and imminent departure to Australia.

The saga of Barry Gray, alias Joe Flynn, alias the "King of Sting", has taken a further bizarre twist. Last week the infamous confidence trickster walked free from court despite receiving a two-year jail sentence. But on Tuesday the Prison Service announced there had been a "mistake" and they wanted him back.

But yesterday, speaking from "somewhere in France" in an interview with the Independent, he insisted: "I have done nothing wrong".

He expressed disbelief at his new status as a fugitive as he said that he had been at Scotland Yard on Tuesday to pick up his passport and had been in contact with the CPS and Brixton prison all week.

It also emerged yesterday that Brixton prison spoke to Gray on Monday and arranged for several hundred pounds of his money that was left at the jail to be transferred to his bank account. The following day, the Prison Service announced it had launched an inquiry into why Gray, who in the past has conned the CIA, KGB, and Rupert Murdoch, was "released in error" after his conviction at Southwark Crown Court on Monday last week.

The problem stems from confusion over remarks made by the trial judge which the Prison Service believes were mis- interpreted.

Gray, who plans to go to Italy before returning home to Australia, said he only discovered that the Prison Service was interested in his whereabouts after reading about it in the Independent on the ferry to France. "I thought it was practical joke at first because the day before I had been to Scotland Yard to get my passport.

"I can't believe it, I've been speaking to the authorities all week, but no one has said a word. I haven't run away from prison, I'm not an escapee, I was released."

He added: "If there was a cock-up, it's no fault of mine and I should not be made to suffer."

He said he was released from court after the governor of Brixton prison faxed his release papers to Southwark Crown Court after his trial. He spent 18 months in custody in France fighting extradition for charges of deception involving about pounds 3,000.

During his trial, the court heard that Gray had spun tales of industrial espionage, telephone bugging and blackmail for 40 years.

But Gray said his career in cons was behind him. "I'm too old now for confidence tricks. I don't want any silly aggravation now. I've had enough of meeting people at airports. It was a profession that I have earned a lot of money from, but enough is enough."

He said he intended to write a book and a television documentary was planned.

Meanwhile, Scotland Yard did a sharp U-turn on its statement on Thursday in which it said Gray was not a wanted man. A spokesman said yesterday: "He is unlawfully at large and his details have been circulated throughout the London area."

When Gray was asked why the Independent should believe a word he said, he replied: "I'm not getting paid for this interview so there's no point in lying, is there?"