Acid house’s former 'Mr Big' admits £1.3m Barclays fraud charges

Guilty plea follows spells as rave organiser and gambler

Depending on who you ask, Tony Colston-Hayter was either a pioneer of the British rave scene or the scourge of Middle England. In the late 1980s he was dubbed “Acid’s Mr Big” for his running battles with police and politicians over organised raves.

On Monday though, it was white collar crime which caught up with the entrepreneur and former professional gambler, when he pleaded guilty to a huge conspiracy to defraud Barclays Bank of £1.3m.

The 48-year-old ran some of the wildest acid rave parties ever in the late 1980s, was friends with the blogger Guido Fawkes and once begged the Conservative Party to stop cracking down on party-goers. But instead of speakers and decks, it seems his latest tools were a “vast quantity” of personal details and a sophisticated 24-Sim telephone exchange.

Appearing at Southwark Crown Court, Colston-Hayter pleaded guilty to conspiring to divert money from high street bank Barclays to 41 separate bank accounts last April.

Prosecutors said he had been one of the ring-leaders in the plot, and along with the phone exchange machine he admitted having 400,000 documents, including personal mail and bank details, in his possession to commit the fraud.

Back in the 1980s ecstasy was a brand-new drug, LSD was increasingly popular and according to the tabloid press, Colston-Hayter’s all-night "Sunrise" and "Back to the Future" events were eroding the moral fabric of society with a debauched mixture of drugs, sex and non-stop dancing.

Over this time he was supported by his friend Paul Staines, who went on to become a political blogger and created the Guido Fawkes parliamentary gossip website. Yesterday Mr Staines declined to comment on their friendship. At the time, however, he often defended Colston-Hayter and his events.

Colston-Hayter had an unusual background for an acid rave organiser. He was born in affluent Hampstead, North London, growing up Buckinghamshire and enjoying a progressive education.

From there things took a more unusual course. As a teenager he set up a video game business which he claimed had an “annual turnover of £1m”, before going bankrupt and reinventing himself as a professional blackjack player.

By the age of 23 he claimed to have been banned from all casinos in Britain due to his extraordinary winning streak. His next step was to use his winnings to set up World Wide Productions, through which he ran more than 30 acid house events for tens of thousands of ravers.

In June 1989 he held one of his largest ever events, which saw more than 8,000 ravers converging on White Waltham aerodrome in Berkshire. The site was immediately dubbed “Ecstasy Airport” by The Sun.

After police raided a subsequent acid party in Buckinghamshire (which had a 200ft row of speakers and 15,000 attendees) and Conservative politicians threatened to regulate “repetitive beats”, Colston-Hayter joined with Mr Staines to form the Freedom to Party campaign, to fight for the right to party late into the night.

The pair took their campaign to the Tory conference and protested with thousands of others at Trafalgar Square in 1990. However, the campaign failed to win many friends in the tabloid press, with The Sun alleging that the protesting ravers were ripping the heads off pigeons in an “ecstasy frenzy”.

But according to Gordon Mason, the director of the documentary They Call It Acid, the British music scene has a lot to thank Mr Colston-Hayter for. He told The Independent: “Tony was an early pioneer of the rave scene as we know it. Without him we wouldn’t have had the UK club scene of the 1990s that was exported to clubs around the world.”

For his part, the former rave promoter always insisted his musical activities were within the law. As he wrote to this newspaper at the time: “The idea that so-called ‘acid parties’ are a dangerous drug-crazed youth cult is a sensationalist fantasy of the gutter press.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us