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Jury told of phoney debt service.

Byline: Sarah Chapman

A BUSINESS which had an office in Wirralconned firms across the country into signing up to a debt collection service, a court heard.

Liverpool Crown Court heard yesterday that the firm, which operated under three different names, told UK businesses who were struggling to get money they were owed that for an advance fee, they would collect their debts and if they failed they would be paid out under an insurance scheme.

Charles Chruszcz QC, pros ecuting, said there was no such insurance policy and most debts were never collected.

He said: ``It was not a legitimate business, it was a criminal plot, a device to deceive and cheat and take their money off them.''

The court heard that many small businesses paid out money they could not afford in the hope of clearing their debts.

He claimed the fraudsters obtained pounds 269,000 in advance fees and collected almost pounds 500,000 in outstanding debts,but only paid out pounds 32,000 over three years from their offices,basedin Birkenhead and the West Midlands.

In the dock are Michael Brucknor, 36, of Findlay Drive, Leasowe,John Stewart,of 46, of ParkLane, Meols, Ronald Coyle, 41,of Hilary Avenue, Broadgreen, Liverpool, RichardMetcalf, 36, of Walsall,and Barry Gibbins, 58, of Oldbury,West Midlands. They all deny conspiring to defraud from Sep 11997 to July 31, 2000.

Five other defendants, including Maureen McHugh,54,her husband David McHugh, 42, both of Isle of Eday,Orkney Islands, and three other men have all pleaded guilty to their involvement and will be sentenced later.

Maureen McHugh pleaded guilty yesterday before she was to stand trial for being involved in the alleged fraud plot,and was formally convicted by thejury.

The trial could last twomonths.
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:May 7, 2003
Words:294
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