Couple jailed over £10m Ponzi scheme fraud

 

A husband and wife who used money from a fraudulent £10 million investment scheme to fund their extravagant lifestyle have been jailed.

John and Linda Hirst enjoyed luxury holidays and lavish wedding celebrations in Las Vegas and Majorca with the proceeds of the Ponzi scheme.

John Hirst was sentenced at Bradford Crown Court to nine years for his part in the fraud while his wife was told she would serve two-and-a-half years in jail for money laundering.

Richard Pollett, an accountant who was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud, was jailed for six-and-a-half years.

Judge Jonathan Durham-Hall QC told John Hirst and Pollett: "You through and through common criminals. What you did, and what makes this case of the utmost gravity, was brutal, callous and cruel.

"You are corrupt."

Judge Durham-Hall said: "This was an appalling and shocking course of conduct in which so many were targeted and so many have, in effect, had the remainder of their lives shattered and ruined."

The judge said those targeted by the pair were mainly ordinary, hard-working people who put their pensions and savings into the scheme after being promised huge returns and a risk-free guarantee.

Many were elderly or divorced and all were decent and trusting, he said.

Judge Durham-Hall spoke of both men's greed and desire to live the high life in Majorca.

"It did involve money-laundering on a grand scale, high living, lavish lifestyle," he said.

"It was sickening to see the display of extravagance at your wedding to Linda, where many of the investors you were defrauding were being entertained on the most grand scale with the use of their own dishonestly-acquired money."

Sentencing Linda Hirst, the judge said: "You did, from June 2006 onwards, enjoy the most profligate of high standards of living, jet-setting here and there, cruises here and there, and, of course, Mr Hirst liberally showered you with money and jewels."

John Hirst, 61, from Brighouse, West Yorkshire, served a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence in the early 1990s after being convicted of a similar investment fraud involving miners' redundancy payments.

After his release from jail, he later moved to Majorca and set up the Ponzi scheme in 2001.

He presented himself as a wealthy expert investor with a background in the financial services and promised investors he would invest their money in the US Dow Jones Index, with minimum returns of 18%.

Instead, he used the money for his own benefit, including paying for his wedding to Linda in Las Vegas in 2006 and a lavish wedding celebration in Majorca costing around £88,000.

The scheme began to fall apart in 2009 when the demands for the withdrawal of money exceeded the amount being invested.

Of the £10 million invested into the scheme, only around £4 million has been repaid.

A Serious Fraud Office investigation began in November 2009 after a complaint from one of the 120 investors.

Judge Durham-Hall said John Hirst also imperilled members of his own family by trying to involve them in the scheme.

His solicitor son, Daniel Hirst, and Linda Hirst's daughter, Zoe Waite, were cleared of money laundering charges at the trial earlier this year.

John Hirst pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud and two counts of money laundering at the beginning of the trial.

Pollett, 70, from Poole, Dorset, was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud.

The court heard that he invested and lost his brother's life-savings and those of his best friends and clients who trusted and respected him as a professional chartered accountant.

Judge Durham-Hall said: "You are a desperately greedy man, dazzled by John Hirst, envious of his lifestyle and wanting some for you at any cost."

Linda Hirst, 62, from Woking, Surrey, was found guilty of three counts of money laundering a total of around £750,000, and one count of evading a liability by deception.

She is no longer in a relationship with John Hirst.

Linda Hirst, wearing a pink zip-up cardigan over a black top, sat impassively next to Pollett throughout the sentencing proceedings, while John Hirst sat apart from his two co-defendants.

None of the three showed any emotion when they were jailed.

Speaking outside the court after the sentencing, Charles Dewey, one of the investors in the scheme, described the trio as evil and said he had been left with nothing.

"It's had a huge effect on us really, it's made me doubt people from a trust point of view," Mr Dewey, from Somerset, said.

"The destruction of trust is a very nasty lesson to learn aged 50, together with I'm now having to start life again like a student."

He said: "This man has taken £300,000 from us, we're now left with nothing. We've got nothing to our name now, we're living on benefits with two children. It's a very difficult situation."

He added: "That man has ripped our lives apart. I think they're evil people. I'm very relieved that, at long last, justice has been made to bear on him."

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Disruption at Waterloo after a person was hit by a train
newsCancellations and disrupted service after person hit by train
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The almost deserted Liverpool Echo Arena on Monday
tvCan X Factor last in the face of plummeting numbers auditioning
News
Kirsty Bertarelli is launching a singing career with an album of songs detailing her observations of “real life”
news
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence