Prison warning for boss guilty of fraud

THE BOSS of a telecom company has been warned he could be jailed after he was found guilty of conning businesses, schools and charities in Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex out of thousands of pounds.

Christopher Boughton-Fox, chairman of Great Yarmouth-based Business Telecom Ltd, had denied conspiring to defraud businesses and individuals of more than �100,000 between 2003 and 2008 but was found guilty by a 10-2 majority verdict after a 10-week trial at Ipswich Crown Court.

Also before the court was Business Telecom sales manager Jonathan Parrish, 42, of The Hills, Reedham, who had denied the same charge and was found guilty by a unanimous verdict on Monday.

Boughton-Fox, 48, of Yarmouth Road, Thorpe St Andrew, Norfolk, and Parrish will be sentenced on April 27 along with sales manager Neil Debenham, 28, of East Somerton, Norfolk, who admitted conspiracy to defraud at an earlier hearing.

A fourth employee, Daniel Cullen, 28, of Hatfield, Hertfordshire, also admitted conspiracy to defraud and was due be sentenced at St Albans Crown Court but the case was adjourned.

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Adjourning sentence on Boughton-Fox for a pre-sentence report, Judge Peter Thompson warned him that he could be jailed but said he would wait to hear what the probation service had to say about him before making a final decision.

During the trial, the court heard that smooth-talking salesmen from Business Telecom Ltd lied to customers and tied them into long-running contracts to secure lucrative commissions.

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David Wilson, prosecuting, claimed that during cold calls to potential customers, staff said they represented British Telecom and that Business Telecom was the business side of British Telecom.

He said customers were told they could cancel deals after one year but found themselves committed to unwanted and expensive terms for seven years.

The court heard that among the victims in Suffolk were Pot Kiln Primary School, Great Cornard; Rattlesden Primary School; Combs Ford Primary School, Stowmarket; Elmers Hardware in Kesgrave; and BMS Imaging in Ipswich; while in Essex, Phoenix Taxis in Clacton was also a victim.

Giving evidence during the trial Parrish, who could earn up to �40,000 in a good month, said he was so successful he didn’t need to be dishonest.

Boughton-Fox denied condoning the mis-selling of phone contracts to customers by his salesmen and said he had never heard any of his staff condone it either.

He also denied that customers were led to believe that Business Telecom Ltd was part of British Telecom.

During the trial, 51 victims, including small schools and charities, gave evidence. The typical cost of a lease agreement that businesses were led to sign-up to saw them paying on average �21,000 over a seven-year period.

Following complaints about Business Telecom’s sales techniques, an investigation was carried out by Norfolk County Council’s trading standards.

Following the verdict, David Collinson, head of public protection at Norfolk County Council, said: “I am extremely pleased with today’s verdict.

“The two defendants found guilty in this trial, coupled with two other defendants, Neil Debenham and Daniel Cullen who were salesmen for Business Telecom, who pleaded guilty at an earlier stage, will now be held accountable for the wide-scale defrauding that they were carrying out in the name of Business Telecom Ltd.

“These individuals knowingly conspired together over a number of years to defraud small businesses, voluntary organisations and schools in Norfolk and across the region – telling a number of lies in order to lead them to enter into expensive and lengthy lease agreements for telecommunications systems and accessories.

“Customers were cold-called by the company and visited by sales staff, with dishonest themes involved in the sales pitch ranging from the cost of a lease agreement with them, the length of the lease agreement and cancellation charges, through to the company’s false associations with BT [British Telecom], and lies about the need to upgrade phone systems due to lines and systems becoming digital and the need to protect from power surges.

“These lies were extremely profitable for the business and for these individuals, with the total value of the leases sold via fraudulent misrepresentations exceeding well over �1million and the individuals themselves each earning hundreds of thousands of pounds a year.

“Small to medium-sized businesses and organisations were the prey of these individuals and after being misled about what they were entering into, they were left tied into expensive and lengthy lease agreements – leaving some with real financial difficulties.”

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