Conman who posed as top rider to swindle £290k ordered to repay £1

  • A “cruel” conman who claimed to be a top rider as he fleeced victims of almost £300,000 has been ordered to repay £1.

    James Condliffe defrauded people including his girlfriend and an 85-year-old man out of £290,250 between 2012 and 2014. The 35-year-old, from Shrewsbury, admitted 21 charges of fraud by false representation and one of using a false instrument (see below) when he appeared at Maidstone Crown Court in Kent in March last year.

    He was sentenced to four years and three months in prison and appeared at the same court for a confiscation hearing on 2 January.

    Judge Charles Macdonald QC was told Condliffe had no realisable assets. He therefore ruled that the fraudster should repay the nominal £1, or spend a further seven days in prison.

    The court heard Condliffe made elaborate claims, such as that he owned a house near Ashford, Kent, with seven acres of land and stables and that he had competed at a high level in equestrian sport and owned a horse destined for the Rio Olympics.

    He also said his parents were either seriously ill or dead when they were alive and well.

    At Condliffe’s sentencing hearing, prosecutor Edward Connell said: “He took advantage for his own personal gain and successfully convinced investors he was a successful horse rider and businessman.

    “When the people he defrauded tried to chase him to get their money back, he would say anything to get himself out of trouble.

    “In reality, he was a man in serious financial difficulties who repeatedly preyed on others to fund his lifestyle.”

    Buying horses

    The court heard Condliffe persuaded people to buy or part-own horses at inflated prices.

    He defrauded his partner Sarah Barker, whom he met at the Hickstead Derby meeting in 2012. He pressured her into paying £35,000 for a horse called Fan, whom he had bought for £16,000.

    Condliffe said another horse, Gotti, whom he had bought for £12,000, was worth £100,000.

    He turned up unannounced at the Ashford farm of elderly Warren Alcock in September 2012.

    He persuaded the 85-year-old to “invest” £50,000 in Gotti, and money in other horses who were never bought, and to take out a loan of £25,000 on Condliffe’s behalf. The false instrument charge concerned a forged letter Condliffe sent to British Showjumping in an attempt to “steal” Gotti by asking for a change of ownership, and giving his late grandfather’s name as that of the new owner.

    In total, the court heard, Mr Alcock was conned out of £100,000 and is still in debt. His insistence at the time that Condliffe was genuine when his children voiced their concerns also led to a family rift.

    In a victim impact statement, Mr Alcock said he felt like a fool.

    As he imprisoned the conman, Judge Macdonald said the offences depicted a “predatory and remarkably cruel character”.

    “This is an appalling narrative of diverse and persistent frauds committed over two years against all manner of victims,” he said.

    The judge also imposed a serious crime prevention order for five years, from his release from prison, banning him from engaging in any business related to the horse industry, financial advice and investment opportunities.

    History of fraud

    He was ordered to serve the four years and three months consecutively to a 42-month sentence he is serving, which was imposed in October 2016 for a fraud in which he duped elderly women across southern England out of almost £100,000.

    These frauds were committed while on bail for the horse scam, in which Condliffe also posed as a buyer of Thimble Hall in Charing, Kent, when it was put on the market for £650,000 in 2014.

    When the sale stalled, he claimed to be awaiting probate following his father’s death but wanted to move in to impress clients.

    While the owner agreed, no rent was ever paid, but Condliffe posed as the owner when he took prospective clients to view it, including 65-year-old Christopher Ingram, whom he tricked into investing £20,000 in a horse, Stan, who did not exist.

    “The defendant claimed Stan was worth £96,000 for which Mr Ingram would get a £3million return,” said the prosecutor.

    “Condliffe took him to Thimble Hall and Mr Ingram was impressed by the property, with its seven acres, stables and swimming pool.

    “He claimed to own the property and said it was worth £1.5million – all lies designed to trick Mr Ingram he was a successful businessman.”

    Condliffe, who did have a stable yard in Wye, Kent, also tricked clients into lending him money or investing in other equine business ventures.

    Condliffe, of Cross Green Farm in Upper Berwick, was said by his barrister to have “lost grip on reality”.

    He has been assaulted several times in prison, on one occasion suffering a fractured eye socket and losing five teeth.

    He has another conviction for fraud in Belgium for which he was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment in his absence and is yet to serve.

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