Party-loving fraudster is jailed for four years

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The Independent Online

A serial conman who befriended celebrities by pretending to be a polo-playing millionaire and repeatedly impersonated senior police officers was jailed yesterday for four and a half years.

Michael Hammond, 36, who once caused three innocent men to be searched at gunpoint after he claimed he had seen one carrying a pistol near Downing Street, was told he had put lives at risk with his actions.

The fantasist called police 133 times in an 11-month period between September 2003 and last August. He was caught after he tricked his way into Windsor Castle by pretending to be a detective escorting a friend of Prince William and Prince Harry. The security breach was only spotted after Hammond and a girlfriend had spent more than an hour walking around the grounds in May last year.

Although no members of the Royal Family were in at the time, the escapade exposed fresh failings in security. It came just 12 days after the completion of a review of royal security ordered after the "comedy terrorist" Aaron Barschak gatecrashed Prince William's 21st birthday party at the castle.

Isleworth Crown Court in west London heard the incident was one of dozens of deceptions carried out by the decorator's son, who was heavily in debt.

Hammond had pleaded guilty to being a public nuisance. Judge Richard McGregor-Johnson said the charge "is old-fashioned wording which obscures far more serious conduct than simply making a nuisance of yourself".

Prosecutors said Hammond had 102 previous convictions, mainly for fraud or deception, but also including two for impersonating a police officer.

The court heard he had been a regular on London's party circuit, where he falsely boasted of love affairs with famous women and claimed to be friends with the Prince of Wales. He would also masquerade as various serving Scotland Yard officers to trick police into searching innocent people. In one incident, he pretended to be a Scotland Yard detective investigating black-on- black gun crime who had seen three men, one with a hand gun, acting suspiciously at a McDonald's near Downing Street.

Armed officers and a diplomatic protection unit were rushed to the scene and the men were held at gunpoint before being released.

On another occasion, Hammond caused an Iraqi family travelling on a ferry to Dover to be detained after claiming he was a detective who had recognised them on an Interpol watchlist of al-Qa'ida suspects.

The court was told that in February last year, he called City of London Police pretending to be a surgeon in need of an escort convoy as he rushed to perform a life-saving operation. Hammond, from Cubitt Town, east London, even phoned the next day to thank the officers who helped him and said the "surgery" he performed had been a success.

Judge McGregor-Johnson, told him: "You caused police officers, including armed officers, to stop and search innocent people. Quite apart from the stress and fear that must have caused those people, you created the risk of something much worse.

"You could not possibly know how those being searched would behave or react ... and producing loaded weapons in such circumstances inevitably carries with it the risk that an action or reaction could be misunderstood with tragic consequences."