Cruel trickster facing jail

A TRICKSTER yesterday admitted conning thousands of pounds out of the Essex family of a botanist who went missing in Latin America for nine months and the parents of murdered air hostess Lucie Blackman.

A TRICKSTER yesterday admitted conning thousands of pounds out of the Essex family of a botanist who went missing in Latin America for nine months and the parents of murdered air hostess Lucie Blackman.

Michael Hills, 59, faces jail after pleading guilty to two counts of obtaining property by deception when he appeared at Chelmsford Crown Court yesterday.

Hills, of Lower Marsh, Waterloo, London, admitted claiming £5,000 from Brian Winder, from Great Baddow, the father of Paul Winder who was reported missing in Latin America in March 2000 while searching for a rare orchid.

He returned safely to the UK later that year after being held captive in Colombia for nine months by guerrillas.


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The other charge relates to £15,500 he obtained in August 2000 from Lucie's father Tim, who lives in the Isle of Wight, when he promised he could provide information to help trace her after she went missing in Japan.

The 21-year-old former British Airways hostess told a friend in July that year that she was going on a drive to the seaside with a male client from the bar where she worked.

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She was never seen again and her remains were found in a cave near Tokyo in February 2002.

Japanese property developer Joji Obara is standing trial in Tokyo accused of murdering Miss Blackman, of Sevenoaks, Kent. He denies fatal assault, or rape resulting in death.

Adjourning sentencing for reports until May 30, Judge Rodger Hayward Smith QC said: "This is a particularly upsetting sort of case. I have read the file and the chances of him seeing anything other than a custodial sentence are remote."

Details of the con were revealed to police only when Brian Winder contacted Essex Police to tell them he had been tricked into paying money to Hills.

Detective Constable Brendan Cox, who led the inquiry, said Hills had conned the money out of the Blackman and Winder families by claiming to have underworld contacts in Panama and Japan.

"He said that he had contacts in the underworld and as a result of which he would be able to collude with these people to provide the release of Lucie and Paul.

"But he had no such contacts. It was just a callous attempt to obtain money from people when they were particularly vulnerable. The circumstances surrounding this case are particularly gruesome."

Last night Brian Winder said: “It was certainly a very bad kind of thing to do, to play on people who are emotionally upset already.

“The outcome went well for us and my son came back. The feelings are less hard at this stage. He did cause us considerable grief at the time. He said our son was dead.”

Hills, who is receiving hospital treament for a tumour, was freed on conditional bail.

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