'Gentleman swindler' jailed after 40-year spree

Conman claimed his victims included CIA and KGB
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The Independent Online
MARY BRAID

A notorious swindler who reputedly persuaded Rupert Murdoch to part with $25,000 for a pair of scuffed brown shoes and claimed the CIA and KGB as victims in a 40-year career was yesterday jailed for two years for deception.

Barry Gray, 61, also known as Joe Flynn, became famous for stunts including persuading the Sunday Times to run an erroneous front-page story alleging he had been hired by the Australian entrepreneur Alan Bond to spy on commercial rivals.

He also convinced the brewers Guinness that its one-time takeover competitor Argyll was conducting a secret surveillance operation against the company. Guinness was so concerned it ordered its headquarters to be electronically swept.

His cheekiest con was reported to be the extraction of $25,000 from Mr Murdoch for a pair of scuffed brown shoes. Gray alleged the footwear had belonged to Jimmy Hoffa, leader of the US Teamsters' Union, and would prove he was the hitman who killed him.

Yesterday Southwark Crown Court in south London was told that Gray, who last week published his autobiography in France, entitled Gentleman Escroc (Gentleman Swindler), had revelled in his reputation as an international conman. The book has already sold 10,000 copies. A film is already in the pipeline.

Brendan Finucane, for the prosecution, said that Gray, 61, spun tales of industrial espionage, telephone bugging, secret surveillance and blackmail. "It really is his life," said Mr Finucane. "He would regard it as his profession." His list of victims included Guinness, TNT Express, the Pentland Group, Citibank and Virgin Atlantic. Gray, who has a home in Monaco, had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to nine charges of deception and one of attempted deception between 10 June 1991 and 8 February 1993.

Mr Finucane told the court that Gray's method involved "thoroughly researching" serious fraud inquiries and large-scale economic disputes and takeovers, seeking out the main players and using an alias to contact them. He would then claim he had information that was of "great value".Journalists had been persuaded to fly all over the world to rendezvous with Gray.

The court was told that the "information'' varied but included knowledge of missing assets and alleged surveillance operations being carried out by competitors to acquire sensitive information or blackmail.

Gray had posed as an international financier, who had suddenly found himself being used by thieves and fraudsters. He would also pretend to be a private investigator, employed by the "other side", who now nursed a grievance against them.

In each case he would not ask for payment for information but wanted to be reimbursed for his expenses. Payments ranged from pounds 150 to pounds 1,000, with the nine successful deceptions that featured on the indictment totalling pounds 3,250.

The judge, Geoffrey Rivlin QC, told him: "You virtually dedicated the whole of your life to committing offences of this nature, a matter of which I am sure you hoped and still hope to trade on by the sale of picture, television and film rights."

The court was told that sometimes having tricked one of the parties involved in a high profile, highly-publicised confrontation or negotiation, he would then trick the other side. Afollow-up sting swung into operation involving a new identity and a different accent.

Gray has mastered a range of convincing accents. In his 1990s sting on the Sunday Times he was described as a "mysterious man with an Anglo- Australian accent" Two years before, when he was interviewed by the Guardian in Nice he was sporting an East End accent.

When Rosemary Aberdour was convicted of stealing pounds 2.5m from the charity she worked for Gray contacted her employer and suggested Aberdour had hidden her ill gotten gains. The lie resulted in the judge threatening the woman with an increased jail sentence if the information was true.

SUCCESSES OF A CONMAN

t Derbyshire County Council leader David Bookbinder believed he was under surveillance while in confrontation with Norman Tebbit.

t Guinness was led to believe a takeover competitor, Argyll, was conducting secret surveillance against the company and top executives.

t One confidence trick led to the collapse of major takeover negotiations between the Pentland Group and the French firm Adidas.

t Rosemary Aberdour's victims were told she had hidden charity gains, leading a judge to threaten her with a longer sentence.

t Also duped were Citibank, Royal Life Assurance, Virgin Atlantic, the Sunday Times and Daily Mirror, TNT Express, the CIA and the KGB.

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