The evangelical fraudster tasked with showing prisoners the light

FOR A WELSH choirboy, it was the stuff of dreams. Within the walls of Caernarfon Castle, Kenner Elias Jones proudly held aloft the white cross at the investiture of Prince Charles as the Prince of Wales.

Thirty years later, the charismatic Mr Jones cuts an equally spiritual figure at the head of an evangelical movement that claims to be leading hundreds of prison inmates towards a crime-free future. But when money is at stake, this life-long churchgoer seems to lose any regard for Christian teachings. An investigation by The Independent has found the national co-ordinator of a religious community that has been allowed to take control of entire prison wings is a consummate conman with over 70 criminal convictions.

He has served three prison sentences in Britain, and been jailed in Canada and the United States, where government officials have described him as "a danger to society". Yet the Prison Service has given him its stamp of approval.

Prison chiefs believe that Kairos - which requires inmates to undertake a mysterious spiritual experience known as "The Journey" - can significantly reduce violence in jails and lessen the likelihood of prisoners reoffending. Hundreds of prisoners have applied to join Kairos units, which are carpeted and allow unsupervised visits for prisoners' friends and relatives.

But The Independent has obtained a confidential prison service report into Kairos that rings alarm bells over the amount of control being handed to Mr Jones. The report is especially concerned by the lack of "a formal monitoring system" for the pounds 300,000 Charitable Trust Fund, which is used to run the project.

Mr Jones is described in the report and by Kairos staff as the "Trust Administrator".

The report notes: "It is strongly advised to keep a close financial control of the administering of the Kairos Trust and the appointment of trustees or fiduciaries who are versant with legal and financial skills ought to be considered."

The report's author, Ursula Smartt, a prisons expert based at Thames Valley University, had every reason to be concerned; Jones has a criminal history of fraud and deception dating back to 1973.

Kairos - which is described by its proponents as "an intense course in leadership based on Christian values and teachings" - began in Brazil 27 years ago, and is credited in America for having a marked effect on rates of reoffending.

An affiliate was established in Britain two years ago by a prison officer at the Verne prison in Dorset. Mr Jones, who was then serving a sentence for fraud, quickly joined the project team and, as a model Kairos graduate, was given the salaried job of national co-ordinator after he was released

He has set up a Kairos administration office near the prison in Weymouth but spends much of his time promoting the scheme at other prisons.

Yesterday he was at the Prison Service's Cleland House headquarters in London discussing the expansion of Kairos with senior officials.

Questioned by The Independent over his criminal past he at first played it down and said that he was a reformed man. "I realise that you cannot live life without facing the consequences of your actions. Everyone is responsible for the way they live. If you don't conform to what society rightly demands then you suffer the consequences."

But investigators who have tracked his international criminal career say Mr Jones' claims have a familiar ring to them. According to Detective Sergeant Dave Allinson, of South Wales Police: "There is documentation throughout Jones' criminal history of him being involved in church affairs and complaints being made over the administration of accounts connected with these religious groups."

His undoubted talents first surfaced when as a student at Sheffield Polytechnic he helped the Liberal Party to win its first seat on the city council in years.Soon after, however, he disappeared, leaving a trail of debts. He was later sentenced to three years' probation. The man whose piety had inspired thenickname "Archbishop" resurfaced in Surrey where he again became involved in local politics and the church.

But the frauds continued and Mr Jones was given two more prison sentences before he returned to his native North Wales in the early Eighties.

It was on the promenade at Llandudno that the smooth-talking Mr Jones charmed a Canadian television newsreader, who was in Wales researching her family tree.

They later married and moved to Vancouver before the relationship fell apart when Mr Jones was found to have plundered his wife's savings for thousands of pounds.

Marc Edwards, who trailed Mr Jones' movements across North America for a 1995 documentary for the BBC Welsh-language programme Taro Naw, said: "He seems to take a perverse pleasure in betraying people's trust.

"The frauds are often for quite small amounts but the damage is to people's belief in human nature."

Styling himself as a journalist from "The London Economist" and wearing tweedy clothing, Mr Jones moved to Virginia, where he offered to work for the Republican Party. He was later convicted of passing bad cheques and sentenced to nine years for deception.

Released on parole two years later, he fled back to Canada but was arrested again in possession of a stolen chequebook. But while awaiting trial in Oakalla prison, British Columbia, Mr Jones used his way with words to write a heart-rending article on "Life Behind Bars" for a local newspaper.

The article made a great impression on Elsie Hager, a disabled septuagenarian widow who had founded a local church. After Mr Jones' release they married but in 1991 immigration officials caught up with the Welshman and ordered him to leave Canada for good. The couple then headed for California, where again Mr Jones joined the local church and began telling neighbours in the small town of Cambria that he knew the Prince of Wales.

But the Welshman's criminal past was then exposed again. A senior US immigration official, Ken Elwood said that Mr Jones was "probably the best conman that I have come across in my entire career".

Barred from living in America, the couple headed for Wales and Jones resumed his involvement in politics, becoming a volunteer for the Liberal Democrats. After impressing party officials first with his false claims to have been an assistant to Al Gore in the 1987 presidential campaign in America and then with his energetic work at the Islwyn by-election in 1995, where he showed leader Paddy Ashdown around the constituency, Mr Jones was selected to stand as a local councillor. But while he campaigned for the party, Mr Jones had been abusing his political connections to carry out a complex web of frauds.

Bills for hotel stays and other goods and services were all directed to the party.

Mr Jones issued a series of false cheques from Canadian chequebooks and even used the headed notepaper of the prominent barrister and former LibDem MP Alex Carlile to forge an extravagant reference for a bank.

But yesterday Mr Jones claimed his days as a fraudster were over and that measures had been put into place to ensure that he had no direct access to the Kairos money.

"I don't have anything to do with finances," he said.