Lord Brocket, the polo-playing friend of the Prince of Wales, is likely to be jailed after yesterday admitting his part in a pounds 4.5m classic-car fraud.
The 42-year-old aristocrat, who was charged under his full name, Charles Ronald Nall-Cain, looked drawn and apprehensive as he gave his guilty plea at Luton Crown Court.
Judge Daniel Rodwell ordered pre-sentence reports on Lord Brocket, who owns a 25-bedroom Georgian house in 1,400 acres of park and woodland near Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, but warned that it did not indicate he would avoid a jail term when sentence is passed in the new year.
"I want to make it clear," the judge said, "that by ordering a pre-sentence report it doesn't mean you are going to receive anything other than a custodial sentence. I don't want you to be under any misapprehension whatsoever."
Lord Brocket was charged with three others of conspiracy to defraud. It is alleged that between 17 May 1989 and 1 September 1994 they conspired with another man, Mark Caswell, to defraud others.
Like Lord Brocket, Stephen Gwyther, 40, a mechanic of Welwyn Garden City, admitted the charge.
But an American classic car salesman, Richard Furtado, 41, also of Welwyn Garden City, and Michael Campbell-Bowling, 59, a financial consultant from Fulham, south-west London, deny the offence.
Peter Stage, for the prosecution, asked for time to decide whether it is in the public interest to proceed with a trial against Mr Furtado and Mr Campbell-Bowling.
Desmond De Silva QC, for Lord Brocket, asked that his client's bail be renewed, saying he wanted to sort out "matters of deep family concern so that he might be allowed to attend to his affairs".
Mr De Silva told the court that bail had been set at pounds 30,000 and Lord Brocket's surety would be arriving from the US today to sign the papers. Judge Rodwell, adjourning the case for 28 days, warned that if the papers were not completed within 24 hours Lord Brocket should be re-arrested.
Lord Brocket claimed that four valuable vehicles had been stolen from Brocket Hall during a burglary on converted stable block used as a showroom.
The cars, said to be worth millions, were a 1952 Ferrari 340 America, a 1955 Ferrari Europe, a Ferrari 195 Sport and a 1960 Maserati Tipo Bird Cage. At the time Lord Brocket claimed the thieves had carried out a "professional job" by removing the alarm system.
But no burglary had taken place and in February this year Lord Brocket, along with four other men, was arrested and accused of attempting to deceive insurance companies.
After yesterday's hearing, Steven Barker, Lord Brocket's solicitor, said his client fully accepted that he might go to prison but was much more concerned about the welfare of his family. Mr Barker said the hearing in the High Court would involve "family and residential orders being made".