`Transvestite' council chief arrested on surgical ward

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The Independent Online
ONE OF Britain's most bizarre manhunts has ended with the arrest of a former council chief executive as he lay in a hospital bed waiting for a triple heart by-pass operation.

Paul Purvis, 56, who has been on the run for nine weeks, eventually felt the long hand of the law as he waited for treatment at the Bristol Royal Infirmary.

Police believe the 17-stone, 6ft, ex-council official had managed to evade capture by dressing as a woman. There had been a number of reported sightings, including at a Bournemouth building society where he was captured on film withdrawing cash and in Taunton, Somerset, where he was seen sporting a frock.

The former North Devon District Council chief absconded while in the middle of a long-running fraud trial.

His case had been before the courts 29 times at an estimated cost to the taxpayer of more than pounds 75,000, but each time he had claimed he was too unwell to stand trial because of his heart condition. Earlier this year Judge William Taylor created legal history by ordering Purvis to have heart surgery as a condition of granting him bail.

As his trial was about to start he complained of chest pains and took a taxi to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. The trial Judge John Baker issued a warrant for his arrest if he left the hospital, which he promptly did.

While on the run, Purvis, a serial litigant, faxed Exeter Crown Court from a secret hideaway to appeal against a Devon and Cornwall Police decision to revoke his firearms certificates on the grounds that he was unfit to hold them - an appeal the judge dismissed as "impertinent".

In the past 20 years Purvis, of Clayhidon, Devon, has gone to court 100 times to make legal claims against neighbours, ex-employers, insurers and local planners.

He was eventually tried, convicted and sentenced to three years in his absence at Exeter Crown Court for mortgage and insurance frauds totalling more than pounds 80,000.

During the trial, the jury was told he invented a fictitious character called Paul Warren, giving him a fake date of birth, national insurance number and employment history and used bogus pay-slips to dupe Abbey National into granting him the mortgage.

His need for medical attention, however, eventually proved his downfall.

It is unclear how the police were alerted to his appointment with the Bristol surgeons, but officers arrested him while bed-bound on Sunday. He remained at the hospital yesterday guarded by prison officers while awaiting his heart operation.

A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall police said: "He has been arrested and handed over to the prison authorities, so technically his prison sentence has started."