'Heartless' conman who faked cancer is jailed for four years

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The Independent Online

A man who claimed he had a cancerous brain tumour and conned his family, friends and well-wishers out of thousands of pounds was jailed yesterday for four years.

Glenn Rycroft, 27, even shaved his head to make it look as though he had undergone chemotherapy, Manchester Crown Court was told.

Rycroft, a former flight attendant from Salford, admitted a total of 25 counts of deception involving more than £200,000. Judge Burke said his actions had been "mean, wicked and indeed heartless".

Two of the charges related to sums of £5,000 and £15,000 that he obtained by claiming he needed the money for cancer treatment. The remaining charges, relating to sums ranging from £1,000 to £50,000, stemmed from a series of other deceptions in which he persuaded people to invest money in bogus schemes. He denied five other charges, which were allowed to lie on the file.

Maurice Greene, for the prosecution, said Rycroft behaved in a "calculated" way and had deceived many people. While pretending to be suffering from cancer, he was in reality "living the high life and enjoying himself with other people's money".

The court was told that about £28,000 was spent on lavish holidays in Chicago, Amsterdam, Nassau, the Algarve, Canada, the United States and Australia, staying in five-star hotels. On some of the trips he took friends with him who never suspected his illness was a pretence.

Rycroft, a former British Airways steward, had also taken leave of absence from his job on the pretext that his mother had cancer.

When some of his victimsexpressed doubts over his illness, Rycroft, who had read up on the subject, forged a letter from a supposed cancer specialist at a local hospital to persuade them he was genuine. It was later found that the type of treatment Rycroft claimed to have been receiving was not available at the hospital.

He was found out when police were contacted by members of clubs where charity nights had been held on his behalf. His earlier deceptions were then discovered,involving conning people into contributing to bogus investment schemes, one purportedly to help former BA staff. He used the money to buy a variety of unprofitable shops, including two newsagents and a hairdressing salon.

Judge Burke told him: "You embarked on this most extraordinary campaign of deceit that had as its object the theft of thousands of pounds. Your victims, who parted with, in some cases, their life savings, entrusted you with their money and included members of your own family and close friends.

"If that were not mean enough, you later pretended you were suffering from cancer and went to ingenious lengths to substantiate those claims."

Toby Hedworth QC, for the defence, said Rycroft, now bankrupt and a "broken man", wanted publicly to apologise to his victims. He added: "He accepts his actions have caused a great deal of harm to many other people and he regrets that a number of people, most of whom were close to him and were entitled to trust him, have lost as a result of his activities."

When questioned by police, Rycroft said he had "no explanation" for why he decided to say he had cancer. But from then on, he said, he had been "whisked along". He claimed he fell under the influence of a cult called "the Community of Free Spirits", which directed his actions, but this was rejected as a defence by the judge.

After Rycroft's deceptions were exposed, he tried to kill himself by dousing himself and the inside of his car with petrol and driving into the central reservation of the A1(M) in West Yorkshire. But he was pulled from the wreckage by two passing motorists.

Alan Kan, 25, a former close friend of Rycroft, whose mother, Gwen, handed over her life savings of £50,000 to the bogus investment scheme, said yesterday that the family felt "betrayed" by him.

Mr Kan said: "Glenn's callous actions will stay with us for a long time to come. He systematically targeted friends and family who were more than content to help a friend in need. For our loyalty and trust, we were rewarded with betrayal and a lot of heartache. During the time we thought we were helping a sick and dying friend, Glenn nearly destroyed my future and relationships with friends and family."

Detective Sergeant Steve Retford, of Greater Manchester Police, said many of Rycroft's victims had been financially ruined as well as emotionally damaged.

"He was very convincing and persuaded many people from different walks of life into his business scam and, when that was drying up, he looked at other methods of getting money from them," he said.

Det Sgt Retford added that police held out little hope of recovering much of the money. He said: "We have a couple of lines of inquiry we will look at but the vast majority of the money is gone."