Four people sentenced for defrauding the families of prisoners

08/07/2015

Four people have been imprisoned for defrauding the families of convicts out of approximately two hundred thousand pounds.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that Michael Sibbald, Robert Marr, Gemma Ward and Anthony Bryce had set up a scam company, called Kingdom Legal Services Limited, with its own website and virtual office bases in Ellesmere Port and later Moreton, offering to help prisoners to appeal their sentences.

The group posed as legal representatives and investigators. The website attracted a number of prisoners and their relatives who felt they had been unfairly convicted. Sibbald and Marr said their services would cost thousands of pounds and the people taken in by them parted with around £206,000 in total over 18 months.

But in reality, none of the members of the group was legally qualified and there was no evidence that they did anything to progress the appeals of the people they had conned.

The court heard that Sibbald and Marr were career conmen who had set up such a scam in August 2011, just six days after having appeared at Court and being bailed in respect of an earlier fraud.

In the previous case, the two had set up a scam training scheme and had taken money from the European Social Fund for the training of fictitious employees that was never delivered.

Their latest deceit came to light when a local newspaper printed a picture of Sibbald following his conviction for the training fraud.

Some witnesses recognised Sibbald as a man allegedly called Michael Fallon, and contacted the police.

The court heard that Sibbald had changed his surname to Fallon in recent months, which he was not allowed to do, following an order made in another conviction.

Sibbald and Marr were the main organisers in the scam. Bryce was introduced as an investigator and Gemma Ward either as an employee of the firm, specialised in prison law, or as a trainee. All four visited prisoners in their establishments and the families in their homes.

Sibbald told the convicts and their families that they had access to hotel, telephone and health records and used the services of private investigators and barristers.

Sibbald and Marr always spoke optimistically of the chances of successes in the appeals of the people they had taken in and advertised an extravagant rate of overturned convictions.

In one case, the family of a prisoner expected their relative would be home with them for Christmas as Marr and Sibbald told them that bail had been granted pending appeal, an appeal so compelling that the prosecution would not resist it.

The family were told to take a surety of one hundred thousand pounds to a police station in order to secure the release of their relative.

They arrived at the police station, only to find that bail had never been granted by the Court of Appeal.

Some of the people conned became suspicious and asked for refunds. Nothing was ever paid out.

At Liverpool Crown Court, Michael Sibbald, aka Michael Fallon, was sentenced to 4 years and 6 months, Robert Marr to 40 months, Anthony Bryce to 3 years and Gemma Ward to 30 months in prison.

Pascale Jones of Mersey-Cheshire Crown Prosecution Services Complex Casework Unit, said: "Marr and Sibbald are career conmen who simply move on from one scam to another with no thought for the people they are defrauding. They were on bail on a previous fraud allegation when they embarked on this venture.

"The families of these prisoners thought they would see the prompt return of their relatives and parted with thousands of pounds in the belief that these fraudsters would help them.

"Ward and Bryce may have played a lesser role but took part in visits to prison and to relatives whilst being aware that people were given false expectations.

"Although it is not unlawful to set up a company giving legal advice, so long as nobody acting on its behalf claims to be a solicitor or a barrister, members of the public should be very wary about trusting unregulated firms with their interests.

"A lack of regulation gives no assurance of integrity, sometimes cases involve the revelation of sensitive details which are released to persons not bound by a code of conduct.

"The only victim who suffered a limited loss of funds, had the presence of mind to ask Sibbald-Fallon for his roll number, and then contacted the Solicitors Regulation Authority to check on him, after making her first payment to Kingdoms
Legal Services Ltd.

"Unless a representative is met at Court, or has been used in the past, it would be prudent for anybody who secures the services of someone claiming to be a legal representative, to contact the Solicitors Regulation Authority or the Bar Council of England and Wales.

"It is notorious that some websites are deliberately set up to be persuasive. However, fraudulent activities are rife and it is important that the public are aware of such risks and can avoid falling prey to such behaviour."