A WIGAN company boss spoke of his anger today after one of the men who fleeced him escaped jail.
Mel Wilde has been forced to write off more than £4,000 worth of fishing tackle that he thought he was sending to one of his regular customers but was in fact ordered by “highly plausible” fraudsters.
The man who came to collect the goods - Paul Stevens - was this week given a nine-month suspended sentence after Liverpool Crown Court was told that he had played a relatively minor role in the defrauding of Ince-based manufacturers Octoplus.
The mastermind of the scam - who on the phone called himself Adrian Collins - remains at large and is believed to have also hoodwinked several other fishing tackle manufacturers around the country.
Indeed the tricksters were intending to steal a second, much larger consignment from Octoplus when Stevens was arrested.
It was Mr Wilde who raised the alarm just in time after ringing retailer Fosters in Birmingham - from where “Collins” had claimed to be ringing - to ask why an order form hadn’t arrived.
When he was informed there was no such person at the firm, the penny dropped and he rang the police who arrived at the business while Stevens was there ready to pick up the second consignment of tackle boxes, this time worth £7,632. The hearing was told that Stevens had used a false name when signing for the first load that was spirited away in his van on May 27 this year.
In court Stevens said that as well as working mornings as a driver, in the afternoons he worked for himself providing “a man and van” service.
He added that after picking up the fishing tackle he set off for Birmingham but was told to pull onto the A500 and the items were loaded into another vehicle and he was paid £200 cash.
Stevens, 44, of Briarfield, Skelmersdale, pleaded guilty to two fraud offences. He was sentenced to nine months’ imprisonment suspended for 12 months and ordered to carry out 200 hours’ unpaid work.
Ashley Barnes, defending, said that Stevens, “while not knowing the ins and outs of it, knew enough to sign a false name.”
His role was peripheral and he had been a pawn. Stevens had previous convictions but none since 2003, he added.
After the hearing Mr Wilde said: “Other than get very angry about this I cannot do anything.
“The person behind all this clearly knows the industry very well. We have been doing regular business with Fosters for 20 years and I know most of the senior staff.
“This guy Collins rang up and told me that the boss Richard was away (which turned out to be true), they needed some stuff pretty quickly and they had a van in the area. He was very plausible.
“When the driver turned up he spent a lot of time on his mobile talking to ‘head office,’ was making all the right noise and signed for the equipment.
“Two days later I got another call from Collins asking for twice as much and so a second pick-up was organised for June 1. By the Tuesday no order had been sent so I rang Fosters and asked if Adrian Collins was in. They said ‘who?’ and I said ‘some Scouse guy you employ’ to which they replied there was no such man.
“I asked if they had got their boxes. I faxed them the first order and they told me it wasn’t their notepaper and the number was wrong. All I could do then was call the police.
“When the same driver turned up again I phoned them to say he was here and they took one and a half hours to arrive. But he was still there and was arrested.
“But the main man is still out there. The boxes were on sale on eBay a few days later but no more arrests have been made.”