A penniless conman who lived with his parents while he tricked a top racehorse trader into spending millions on thoroughbreds today had his jail term slashed from 3 to 2 years by appeal judges.
Among 29-year-old Michael Baker’s victims was Charlie Gordon-Watson, a bloodstock agent whose clients have included Sir Alex Ferguson and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
The audacious fraudster, of Pilgrims Way, Hollingbourne, Kent, was jailed at Maidstone Crown Court last June after admitting fraudulent trading, obtaining services by deception and fraud by false representation.
But today, three senior judges at the Court of Appeal said a lesser term should be substituted because of the effect of his imprisonment on his sister, who suffers from cerebral palsy.
Mr Justice McCombe told the court how Baker convinced Mr Gordon-Watson to buy millions of pounds worth of thoroughbred at auction, without intention to pay for them.
A £44,000 horse was also bought for him by another agent, Henry Cecil, but sold at a considerable loss months later when Baker failed to pay.
In other incidents, he made plans to buy a €62million luxury yacht in the Cayman Islands and negotiated with another dealer over a US$24m deal for more horses.
He even managed to convince Debenhams to begin looking for new premises in London after attempting to persuade the company to hand him the lease on its original headquarters in London for £8.5m.
And he conned local contractors and suppliers of around £214,000 worth of goods and services as he took over Maidstone’s White Horse pub, paying them with cheques which were never honoured.
When he was caught, he said he never intended to make any money from his fraud and told a probation officer that he enjoyed the feeling of being treated with respect by people of great means.
Sentencing him, David Griffith-Jones QC said the offences amounted to an “extremely serious” fraud, “calculated” and over a lengthy period of time.
Although the three-year term was fair in normal circumstances, Mr Justice McCombe today said the grave effect that his incarceration was having on his sister justified mercy.
“It is clear from what has been said in the various documents that his sister has been substantially dependant in the past on the appellant for her mobility and everyday care,” he said, after hearing the appeal with Lord Justice Toulson and Mr Justice David Clarke.
“In our judgment, the learned sentencing judge, in looking at these offences, could not in any way be criticised for the conclusion that the offences justified a term of imprisonment of a total of three years.
“The sums at risk were very large indeed and the frauds were persistent and repetitive.
“However, when those matters of personal mitigation are coupled together with the effect upon the disadvantaged sister, we consider that this sentence does call for some reduction.”