Whiz-kid's fall completed by court disgrace ends in

JOHN ARLIDGE

Scotland Correspondent

A 24-year-old computer whiz-kid who set up a mail order software company that grew into a multi-million pound business was fined pounds 2,000 and ordered to do 240 hours' community service yesterday after he was found guilty of extortion.

Gary Marshall, who ran his company - Star UK - from his bedroom when he was a teenager, was convicted of running a firm while disqualified from being a director and extorting thousands of pounds from former colleagues.

Marshall's conviction marks the end of one of the most remarkable boom- to-bust tales of the 1980s. Aberdeen Sheriff Court heard he left school aged 16 and used his hobby to make money. He set up Star UK and began selling software packages through the post.

By his 18th birthday, he was managing director of three computer firms and declared himself "one of Thatcher's children" - a techno yuppie in Aberdeen, a city where most fortunes are made in oil. He had the clothes, the holidays - and the style; he bought a Lotus before he had even passed his driving test.

Marshall's business expanded rapidly and he moved out of software and into hardware. When he reached 20, he boasted that his company's computer showroom in Aberdeen was the biggest in Europe.

It was then that the spending spree started. After the Lotus, Marshall bought a Mercedes and took up expensive hobbies like rally car racing. When he lost his driving licence after being clocked at 120mph, he employed a chauffeur.

By 1990 he was working and playing so hard he did not feel the chill winds of recession. Orders were slack and suppliers were beginning to demand payment. Marshall stopped supplying customers and started using their orders to pay off manufacturers.

By February 1991, with losses of almost pounds 300,000, the game was up. Star collapsed and suppliers and customers were left empty-handed. Marshall was banned from holding directorships for eight years. But he ignored the ruling and set up another computer company, Total Technologies, disguising his involvement by using "frontmen". When it too ran into difficulties, Marshall extorted pounds 3,000 from two former directors after making threats.

He was later arrested and one former staff member described him as "the flash bastard who ran the whole show". He denied involvement during his trial but afterwards he said his business life "is now over".

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