Five years for the man who had it all

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Lord Brocket, the polo-playing friend of the Prince of Wales, was jailed for five years yesterday for his part in a pounds 4.5m classic-car insurance fraud.

Sentencing the 43-year-old peer at Luton Crown Court, Judge Daniel Rodwell QC described Brocket's crime as "disgraceful" and rejected his claim that he set up the fraud in panic as his business and aristocratic family seat ran up debts of more than pounds 10m.

The sentence represents the culmination of a downward spiral that has seen Brocket fall to shame and penury from being one of the country's most successful aristocrats.

In the mid-1980s, the Old Etonian boasted a 50-bedroom mansion, a successful conference centre, 15 of the world's most sought-after sports cars and a wife who modelled for Vogue.

Yesterday, he stood bankrupt, all his possessions gone and his marriage to the Cuban-born Isa Lorenzo, once the world's fifth-highest paid model, in ruins. He still faces a battle to prevent Lady Brocket, a former cocaine addict, from taking their children, Alexander, 11, Antalya, 8, and William, 4, to Puerto Rico.

Brocket was told in December, after pleading guilty to staging the theft of four of his cars in order to claim the insurance, that he would be given a custodial sentence.

Brocket enlisted the help of two of his employees at Brocket Hall, near Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire, to stage the theft of the cars in 1991. The fraud remained hidden, although the insurance company fought to avoid paying out, until 1994, when Lady Brocket was arrested for forging a number of prescriptions and told police about the plot.

Yesterday, Judge Rodwell criticised the employees, Mark Caswell, 40, and Stephen Gwyther, 41, but gave them 21-month suspended sentences, accepting that they were co-erced by Brocket.

Brocket's problems began in earnest as the Eighties boom petered out. To meet the crippling cost of running his 50-bedroom family seat, he had turnedthe mansion and its 58 acres of grounds into a conference centre and golf course

Most of the work, backed by a pounds 326,000 loan from American Express, was carried out in the early 1980s and by 1985 Brocket Hall was the leading conference centre in Britain.

However, the Brocket marriage was falling apart. After the birth of their children, Isa found life at Brocket Hall claustrophobic. She began taking cocaine and became an addict.

And as the Eighties drew to a close, Brocket's pounds 20m collection of classic cars, bought with a pounds 5m overdraft from the Midland Bank, began to devalue. Companies, so profligate in the mid-Eighties boom, began cost- cutting; redundancies were in, conferences were out.

By April 1991, Brocket's car company had a pounds 7m overdraft and he had borrowed a further pounds 3m to keep his estate ticking over. That was when he hatched his insurance scam. In May 1991, he had Caswell and Gwyther dismantle four of the cars - a 1952 Ferrari 340 America, a 1955 Ferrari Europe, a Ferrari 195 Sport and a 1960 Maserati Tipo Bird Cage - and hide them inside a garage in north London.

He called in the police, arguing that the cars had been stolen by a highly professional gang, and he claimed the pounds 4.5m insurance money. However, the insurance company, General Accident, refused to pay up and a lengthy court battle began.

Brocket has said that he was running scared when the insurance company openly doubted his story but he had to maintain the illusion. Lady Brocket's drug problem worsened, despite attempts at detoxification at two of Britain's top drug rehabilitation clinics.

It could only be a matter of time before Lord Brocket's personal and financial problems would crash headlong, and it finally happened when Lady Brocket was arrested over the prescription forgeries and told police about the fraud.

The couple's battle over custody of the children is likely to be less complicated after yesterday's sentencing, although it is understood Lord Brocket intends to fight on.