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Royalty protection officer convicted over £3m scam

A former police Royalty Protection officer was facing jail today after being convicted of masterminding a £3 million spread-betting and property scam.

For years Paul Page, 38, conned colleagues, friends and others out of life savings, redundancy cash, pension pay-outs, retirement money and loans.

Many of his "innocent dupes", including police officers guarding the Queen, lost five and six-figure fortunes.

Some were pushed to the brink of financial ruin by "rampant deceit", and several saw their marriages crumble under the stress.

All thought they were investing in a thriving property development company. In fact its assets were "so much moonshine" and as real as "fairies at the bottom of the garden".

Their money funded Page's expensive lifestyle and gambling addiction, paid debts and kept afloat his ailing "Currency Club" investment scheme, based at Buckingham Palace.

"The ability to inspire confidence and to sound plausible even when telling the most outlandish lies was very much Mr Page's stock in trade," said Douglas Day QC, prosecuting.

Victims, promised returns as high as 120% and plied with glossy brochures filled with "lie after lie", said Page was "charismatic, plausible and persuasive".

They told London's Southwark Crown Court that the father-of-five, who spent £120,000 of their cash hiring Porsches, Mercedes and "his and hers" Range Rovers, and then wasted more money funding his wife's shopping sprees, played on their sympathy to avoid returning their money.

Page invented the deaths of several relatives - his father "died" no less than three times - pretended he had been burgled, and even claimed that a tarantula had infected his eye.

One victim was his best man Fahim Baree, a travel agent so fooled by his childhood friend that he remortgaged his mother's house, handed over £190,000, and introduced others to the fraudster. When he complained to police, Page threatened him.

The three-month trial also featured lurid claims - for the most part denied by prosecution witnesses - of unseemly goings-on by those responsible for guarding the monarchy.

The jury six men and six women agreed took just under four hours to convict him yesterday of fraudulent trading between 2003 and 2006.

His wife Laura, 42, sobbed as the unanimous verdict was returned and her husband was remanded in custody.

But the decision could not be reported because of legal reasons involving a second count of intimidating one of his victims, Mr Baree.

After a further deliberations today, Page was cleared of that count.

Page remained impassive while the verdicts were announced.

Judge Geoffrey Rivlin QC told him that a "substantial sentence of imprisonment is inevitable but then I think you already know that".

He added that there would be no confiscation hearing "because there is no money left".

Sentencing will be on July 30.

Page's barrister John Cooper, who withdrew from the case during the trial leaving Page representing himself, had suggested to the jury that Royalty Protection officers posed for pictures on the Queen's throne, traded pornography in locker rooms at Buckingham and St James's Palaces, handled firearms while drunk, sold steroids, slept on duty and ran gambling rings.

On other occasions they he said they smuggled "uninvited and unvetted" friends to royal garden parties and offered free Palace parking while shopping.

In his "19 to the dozen" witness box delivery, Page, who insisted his reputation was so good investors "didn't care" how he used their funds, added another allegation - police forging firearms certificates.

But the "pie in the sky" claims were dismissed by Mr Day as "nothing more than diversionary tactics" designed to cloud fudge his "blatant dishonesty".

He told jurors Page's defence was an "assault upon your common sense and intelligence", adding: "You may have difficulty in believing any of this unless you think there are fairies at the bottom of the garden."

Senior investigating officer Detective Chief Inspector Michael Orchard said after the verdicts: "This illustrates how the Metropolitan Police deals with officers robustly and how the Directorate (of Professional Standards) will act to investigate allegations of wrong-doing."

Page's wife began the trial as a co-defendant, accused of laundering some of her husband's ill-gotten gains, intimidating Mr Baree and threatening to kill him.

She was cleared on the judge's directions after a "no case to answer" defence application.

The court heard that Page joined Essex Police in 1992, moved to the Met three years later and then transferred to SO14, the Royalty Protection Command, in 1998.

"He was based at Buckingham Palace and, once there, developed several potentially money-making sidelines," said Mr Day.

"He developed a reputation for being good with money and knowledgeable about the stock market.

"Among royalty protection officers he ran The Currency Club through which he speculated, spread-betting on the foreign exchange market.

"This is a field in which an inexperienced, unskilful and unlucky punter can easily go bankrupt, but someone attuned to the ebb and flow of financial markets can make huge tax-free profits."

Page also opened a sports account at William Hill, losing huge sums on football match forecasts.

By late 2002, mounting losses festered behind Page's "veneer of credibility", bogus Midas touch and apparent "substantial material success".

His "parlous" finances were exacerbated by unpaid domestic bills, ignored council tax demands, his wife's mounting catalogue of shopping debts, and County Court judgments - eventually totalling £1 million - decorating his doormat.

His financial plight eventually came to the attention of his superiors and they ordered a secret internal review of his predicament.

They took no action, but by then he was on unpaid leave, officially because of "child care" reasons.

Although his bosses did not know it, Page had already turned to crime, the very thing he enlisted to fight.

In January 2003 he had used his "undoubted intelligence" to create a bogus development company called United Land and Property Development (ULPD).

Its aim, said counsel, was simple: to "rescue the Pages from their severe financial difficulties, act as a safety net to keep the Currency Club going, and feed both his family and the bottomless pit of his gambling".

He even forged the signature of his wife's twin sister, Lisa Keenan, on the incorporation documents, making her company secretary.

"ULPD and its operation were built on a quagmire of debt. It was kept going with a campaign of lies and deceit behind a facade of bogus authenticity. The company had no assets, it had no capital and did no development," said Mr Day.

The only property Page was said to have owned - some barns in Norton Heath, Essex - were not in the company's name but his.

Altogether, a total of 57 victims fell for his "sophisticated charade", with some investing one five-figure sum after another, often without receipts.

He played on the "inherent trust" a police officer enjoys and the Midas touch that appeared to be his to con fellow officers at both Buckingham and St James's Palaces.

There were 20, and together they risked more than £1.36 million.

He also used the trusting Mr Baree, who worked at West End holiday agency Best of Travel, to recruit 21 colleagues and clients.

They handed over £1.26 million.

Another gullible victim, who ended up working for Page, provided a further £387,000 and 16 investors from the Bristol area.

"Some of these people took out loans to give him, some handed over their life savings - including one couple who had planned to use the money to educate their children.

"At least one parted with his redundancy payout, while yet another victim, a publican, lost cash she put aside for the VAT man," said counsel.

Particularly promising investors were encouraged with overseas holidays and luxury hire cars.

Page, who admitted keeping "piles of cash" at home, worked hard to hide his dishonesty.

"He rented office services in Docklands, a smart address in the heart of London's business and financial centre, which is where you expect a successful property developments business to have its headquarters," said Mr Day.

He took some victims to various properties - none of which he owned apart from the barns - claiming they would make a fortune.

They included a 13.5-acre site in Esher, Surrey, memorable for its "dilapidated bungalow with fungus-infested swimming pool and ferocious poodles looking out of the window".

That, he lied, was to be turned into a "magnificent 6,000 sq ft mansion" boasting six bedrooms, a swimming pool, tennis court and gym worth £3.25 million

The court heard that he backed it all up with a glossy, "audaciously bogus, no expense-spared brochure".

In 2004 he took an unpaid career break - he never returned - and used the time to con even more cash.

But then things started unravelling. "Once a critical mass of unpaid creditors was reached, the end was not long in coming," explained Mr Day.

Page's response was "a very long list" of more lies. He also burned "lots of paperwork", an admission secretly taped by one of those he tricked and handed to police.

When he learned that the Met's Directorate of Professional Standards was investigating, he tried persuading investors to say nothing, claiming it would hamper his property development business. They refused to listen.

With his credibility at zero and the stolen cash gone, Page finally ended up having to "beg" £40 to unclamp his car.

His home was searched and a list of excuses fed to investors was found.

Notepads were also recovered. One had a house containing a pound sign drawn in it, while another provided an insight into just what he thought of his victims.

In a reference to his bogus property company he had written: "United Piss Your Savings Up Against The Wall Ltd".

In January 2008 he was kicked out of the Met.