Judge sentences Mallorca’s Madoff’s to NINE years for Gilher fraud

MALLORCA’S MADOFF: Hirst sentenced to nine years for Gilher fraud

After an investigation that took nearly three, painstaking years to bring to trial, justice has finally been meted out to ruthless, serial fraudster John Hirst, along with his avaricious cohorts-in-crime involved in the Mallorca-based Gilher Ponzi scheme scam (see this blog 14.8.12: The rise and fall of Mallorca’s Madoff…’Nice John’ Hirst – and how the £10M conman was finally nailed).

Sitting at Bradford Crown Court yesterday, Judge Jonathan Durham Hall QC sentenced the trio – Hirst, 61, his estranged wife, Linda, 62, and 70-year-old accountant Richard Pollett – to a total of 18 years behind bars.

John Hirst was sentenced to nine years, Linda Hirst to 30 months and Pollett to six-and-a-half years.

The Judge  told John Hirst and Pollett: ‘You are through and through common criminals. What you did, and what makes this case of the utmost gravity, was brutal, callous and cruel.

‘You are corrupt,’

Judge Durham-Hall said: ‘This was an appalling and shocking course of conduct in which so many were targeted and so many have, in effect, had the remainder of their lives shattered and ruined.’

The judge said those targeted by the pair were mainly ordinary, hard-working people who put their pensions and savings into the scheme after being promised huge returns and a risk-free guarantee. Many were elderly or divorced and all were decent and trusting, he said.

Judge Durham Hall also queried the maximum sentence of 10 years for the conspiracy charge, telling the court, ‘It may very well be necessary for those in power to urgently revisit the maximum sentence.

‘Nine years Mr Hirst, for a man like you standing in the presence of people like your victims, is not enough. I cannot pass more.’

Hirst, the fork-tongued hustler – dubbed Mallorca’s Madoff – was previously jailed in 1992 when he conned Yorkshire miners out of £211,000 of their redundancy payouts.

I helped discover and publicise that fact prior to his questioning under caution by the Serious Fraud Office and West Yorkshire Police – before reporting restrictions were imposed – and I like to think this played some part in the chiseller’s admission of guilt over his role in the cold-hearted Gilher con.

WEDDING OF THE WICKED: The Hirsts at their 200,000 euro wedding party in 2006

But, despite denying her complicity in the case, Linda Hirst was convicted on three charges of money laundering, involving sums totaling nearly £750,000. She was also found guilty of deception.

Pollett, originally from Dorset and a close neighbour of the Hirsts in the Mallorcan resort of Santa Ponsa, was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud.

One way or another, all used the Seychelles-registered Gilher Inc ‘fund’ as a personal piggy-bank, filled to the brim with £10-million swindled from gullible ‘investors’ – many financially-naive and elderly expats on this island – to fuel their own greedy, obscenely-lavish lifestyles.

Hirst guaranteed absurd annual returns of up to 20% to clients, claiming he ‘played’ the US Dow Jones stock index, amassing consistently high profits.

It was a lie. He did no such thing. The money he snaffled went straight into bank accounts under his private control – at least one based in Cyprus – and he withdrew whatever he wanted whenever the whim took his fancy.

DIABOLICAL DUO: Hirst with accountant Pollett (left), who conned many clients into ‘investing’ in the Gilher fraud

However, here in Mallorca, Pollett was viewed as the lynchpin to the con’s success, coercing his accountancy clients and contacts into handing their often meagre nest-eggs into the grasp of the smiling charmer, dubbed ‘Nice John’ by all who had the rank misfortune to cross his fiendish path.

Meanwhile, Linda Hirst (formerly Waite), who married Hirst in Las Vegas in 2006, followed by an extravagant, €200,000 party at Cas Catala’s exclusive Maricel Hotel, lived a life of cosseted luxury in a €1.25M villa, accompanied by bling galore, exotic holidays and a chic convertible, knowing full well the extent of her evil husband’s scheming.

As one speaker at their wedding described her, ‘She’s a high maintenance woman.’

But as one victim of their scam told me last night, ‘She won’t be doing much spending where she’s going.

‘They’ve all got what they deserve and even if we never see a penny of our money again, I hope they all rot behind bars.’

From a personal perspective, as the investigative journalist who first exposed the Gilher fraud, the sentences are as good as I could expect and I applaud the judge’s comments

Meanwhile, I hope it brings some closure to the tens of ‘investors’ duped into parting with their cash.

Three victims I knew well never lived to see this day and it is in their memory that I was asked to record details on my online blog of my cameo role in bringing the Hirsts and Pollett to justice.

Others – particularly two dauntless women, who overcame mental and physical anguish – drove the case on and deserve the real credit for their resolve and courage.

Now my earnest hope is that Britain’s Proceeds of Crime Unit is somehow able to track down what the Serious Fraud Office believes is up to £5-million still unaccounted for from the Gilher scam.

Syria: When in doubt, the West should keep out

There’s an old newspaper adage that editors are wise to stick to and it is this: ‘When in doubt, leave it out.’

The message is unambiguous. When you’re unsure of the veracity of a story no matter how reader-grabbing its appeal, when you cannot double-check the sources from whence it emanated and the office lawyer is giving birth to a small litter of kittens, you expunge it. Or, in old Press parlance – before the advent of paperless offices – the iffy copy is ‘spiked’.

Diplomats, especially from the Western democracies, ought to note this maxim over Syria.

Naturally, it’s heart-rendering to see TV images of tots ripped apart by shrapnel, of entire families summarily executed in their owns home by murderous henchmen of the odious Assad regime and no decent person, with an iota of compassion, can help thinking, ‘This carnage must stop!’

And French President, Francois Hollande, is to be applauded for calling for a no-fly zone and safe haven for refugees in the north of this  hellhole of a busted state.

The problem – as evidenced by post-Gaddafi Libya, in particular, and, to a lesser extent, Egypt – is Western audiences are under some starry-eyed illusion. They are led to believe the insurgents (e.g. the Free Syrian Army) are a cohesive force, under a central command, with a political wing ready to wrest the reins of power from an evil dictator and impose a welcome dose of democracy.

Ah, if only.

Without detracting from Assad’s crimes against humanity, the rebels are a mishmash of divergent, sometimes warring groups, Al Qaeda included. Many are ruthlessly tribal, with centuries old scores to settle; others are religious fanatics, more than inclined towards a little throat-slitting themselves, who are hell bent on ethnically cleansing Syria of Shia Muslims, the ruling Alewites and Christians.

And there is hardly a hint of a united political class surfacing.

So getting rid of Assad could be a prelude to decades of internecine bloodletting that the useless talking shop known as the UN is even more inept – if that’s remotely possible – at sorting out.

ARAB LEAGUE: Time to sort out the trouble in the own back yard

Meanwhile, the opposing factions on the ground are backed by a motley collection of outside interests: the amoral Russians, Chinese and lunatic Iranians supporting the repellent Assad mob; the Saudis, Qataris and Turks giving succour to the rebels, thus transforming this into a proxy war.

Libya, with NATO help, ridded itself of mad Gaddafi, but has disintegrated into tribal factionalism. And even Egypt, which saw largely middle-class students launch a peaceful insurrection by grabbing control of Tahrir Square, has been hijacked by the ‘bearded ones’ of the Muslim Brotherhood, who were noticeable by their absence when the college kids bravely took on the army and brought down Mubarak.

As many – including this writer – predicted, the hopeful Arab Spring is quickly turned into a dire Islamic Winter. And, though the Brothers won a largely fair election in Egypt, they were the only bunch organised enough to capitalise on the political vacuum.

To those who stalk the corridors of Western power, from the White House to No.10 and the Elysee Palace, the fall of the House of Assad would be a blessing. Primarily, with Damascus the cornerstone of the Iran-Syria-Lebanon (Hizbollah-controlled)  axis, the tinpot satrap’s demise would break the Shia stranglehold, so loathed by Syria’s Sunni majority and its external allies, especially the Saudis.

It might even put the brake of Tehran’s ambitions for regional domination.

However, with the UN, who couldn’t stop a classroom scrap, sidelined and the democracies – usual suspects: USA, UK and France – understandably reluctant to get Syrian sand on Western Crusader boots, the only alternative is the Arab League.

After their short-lived ‘observer’ mission beat a hasty retreat months ago, there is little will for this gobby, drum-banging, sabre-rattling bunch of do-nothings to step up to the plate and take responsibility for a bloody civil war raging in their own back yard.

However, the League remains the only viable alternative to imposing a peace settlement. They just need to find the guts to do it.

Meanwhile, the West should take an old editor’s advice: When in doubt, keep out.

Here’s a job that’ll really see you go up in the world…

At a time when work is hard to come by, it should be comforting to learn that there’s at least one international organisation – a brand leader in its own sphere of expertise – currently short-handed and keen to take on new recruits.

What’s more, the successful applicants require no previous experience – in fact, that’s a distinct advantage – and they don’t even need to provide their real names, merely their ages, marital status, languages spoken (preferably one being English) and, quirkily, a list of passports in their possession.

Presumably this is just on the off chance one gets lost, because the posts do necessitate some travel (well, probably one trip).

The employer seeks only truly dedicated, mentally mature people, fully committed to the organisation’s unique ethos, along with an aptitude to be ‘self-starters’, though they will occasionally act in a team role. So no time-wasters, thanks.

Remuneration isn’t mentioned in the ‘sits vac’ on-line ad, so I expect that is by negotiation. But, happily, there’s no hard-selling or cold-calling involved and corporate workwear is provided (well, at least a jacket).

Plus, the prospects for advancement are high…extremely high! And there’s a fantastic, end-of-contract bonus beyond the wildest imaginings of even a multi-millionaire City trader.

Now, before all you job-seekers rush off to your computers and check out this once-in-a-lifetime offer (and it is, believe me!), perhaps I should add a couple of caveats that might dampen your enthusiasm a tad.

Firstly, the employer in question is that well-known purveyor of terror, Al Qaeda.

And, secondly, the jobs on offer are for suicide bombers, whom, for some inexplicable reason, appear to be in short supply, despite the opportunity to be visited by up to 72 nubile virgins in the afterlife (i.e. the aforementioned end-of-contract bonus).

Then, on the other hand – according to Israeli daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, which penetrated the secret website the ad was on – the job description promises only a ‘very slight chance of being caught.’

Well, that’s welcome news for anyone seeking a post that offers the chance to travel and the sky’s quite literally the limit for their career prospects.

NB: Al Qaeda is an equal opportunity employer, where gender is no barrier to success. .

Where The Guardian leads, the BBC is sure to follow

Whither next the BBC, some political and media pundits ask, while others – mainly motley, disgruntled members of Joe & Joanna Public, fed up with a diet of dog-tired repeats – may cavil and demand, ‘Why doesn’t the Beeb just wither?’

Rather like the National Health Service, Brits long retained a misty-eyed nostalgia for old Auntie, though – again like the NHS – they are fast realising it has become a misbegotten one, based on faith rather than reality.

The old tenets, as decreed by its founding father, Lord Reith, a man whose Scottish piety inspired a vision of broadcasting neutrality and integrity which formed the basis of the BBC Charter, have been whittled away and usurped by a self-serving, Left-liberal cabal.

So, while much of the BBC’s arts, magazine and drama output remain a tour de force, in the sphere of current affairs it sees itself as gatekeeper of the country’s political and moral conscience and, listing heavily to the radical as it does, it perpetuates an agenda that is arrogant, posturing and intensely self-serving.

To many this is not the role of a once-unique, public service broadcaster, propped up by an annual viewing tax (e.g. the Licence Fee) of billions, imposed on every telly-owning household in the land, even if its occupants limit their small screen entertainment to Sky News, ITV, Channel 4 or 5, The Shopping Channel or the countless other platforms that have mushroomed since the advent of the digital free-for-all.

Auntie has also become ultra-protectionist – almost neo-Stalinist – in its secrecy and sensitivity to criticism. For instance, The Balen Report of 2004, which investigated allegations of BBC bias in its Middle East coverage, was a blatant cover-up and never given a public airing. It caused the Corporation to spend hundreds of thousands (again of taxpayers moolah) fighting legal challenges to make it come clean.

It even took a recent Freedom of Information request from the online news site, The Commentator, to force the Beeb into disclosing which daily newspapers it bought. This revealed that, while the BBC procured between 40,000 and 50,000 copies of most of the day’s dailies, it bought 59,829 copies of the Guardian – a substantial proportion of the ailing paper’s print run.

The figure suggests that, while newsrooms automatically buy all the hard-copy media, employees order the Guardian for themselves.

As MEP Daniel Hannan points out, the bastion of the far-Left takes a number of assumptions as givens: i.e. police are racist, businesses are corrupt, Israel is a wrong, US Republicans are extreme, the welfare system is ungenerous, immigration is desirable, austerity and growth are contradictions.

However, readers have a choice of options which may reflect their personal prejudices and vote with their pockets when buying a newspaper. They have no such freedom of expression when it comes to watching – or switching off – the BBC. It’s pay up or be damned (and possibly face a prison sentence if you withhold your Licence Fee).

To hark back to my earlier reference of The Guardian’s influence in BBC newsrooms, one insider admitted this is no co-incidence. For not only does Auntie use this paper as a recruitment tool – thus ensuring it attracts only like-minded, Left-leaning thinkers – The Guardian’s editorial stance is often the one most popular with the Corporation’s news coverage decision-makers. And they tolerate no democratic counter-arguments.

As Hannan reported anecdotally when he tackled one editor on her failure to give airtime to that portion of the population – possibly a clear majority of Licence Fee payers – who think Britain would be better off outside the EU, she replied: ‘That’s their opinion, but we have to reflect the economic facts.’

‘She genuinely couldn’t see that hers was just as much an opinion as her viewers,’ he noted.

At sometime in the future – hardly likely under the tutelage of the next Director General, George Entwistle, a BBC apparatchik of long standing – the Beeb’s self-protectionism will be a busted flush and it will be forced to live in the real world, raising its own funds, minus the tax-payers’ crutch.

If and when it does, Auntie will only have herself to blame for lumbering viewers with Guardian-spun, pro-Left, anti-Establishment bias.

PS: It was hardly surprising the BBC’s outgoing DG, Mark Thompson, was quickly anointed boss of the New York Times, the self-styled ‘paper of record’, otherwise known as The Guardian of the USA.

How hubbies drive their darling wives to drink

In days gone by, after work dad would invariably stop off at the local bar for a few glasses of amber nectar and chew the fat – popular topics: the economy (bloomin’ awful), favourite sports side (bloomin’ pathetic) and sex (not a bloomin’ chance) – before reeling home tipsily to play merry havoc with the wife and kids.

Mum generally drank a sweet sherry of a birthday or Christmas and the occasional port and lemon if dad every extended an invitation to join him at the local (bloomin’ rarely) to watch him display his darts or pool skills.

Fast forward to now…fewer dads step over the threshold of the local bar – try finding a convivial pub today! – so most boozing is done at home and it’s mum who’s hitting the bottle harder, not dad. Yet it’s his (bloomin’) fault!

Because, according to research being presented at the American Sociological Association, married women generally drink more heavily than single women, widows or divorcees.

And, by contrast, happily-married fellahs (i.e. yours truly) drink less than their bachelor buddies and significantly less than divorced men.

The reason, the researchers conclude, is that while women can help keep their husbands’ drinking habits under control, men are simply a bad influence on their wives.

BOTTOMS UP, GIRLS! And don’t forget to blame your fellah if you get rat-legged

From personally experience, it’s not unknown in our household for the love of my life and I to imbibe a couple of glasses of wine during dinner each evening – ostensibly for medical reasons – but I can’t ever remember her being rat-legged.

Hence, unless I found she’s lacing her morning cuppa with a shot of gin, I don’t feel the need to hide her favourite vin blanc (vino blanco, as we say here in Spain) or padlock the fridge.

Earlier studies indicated that, overall, married people tend to drink less than non-married people, suggesting that a more settled home life can promote good health.

But a group of sociologists led by Corinne Reczek, an assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati, reviewed data from a long-running study of behaviour involving thousands of people in Wisconsin.

And they concluded that ‘men introduce and prompt women’s drinking.’

Now, speaking as a member of the male persuasion, there may be several alternative reasons for that, which I won’t discuss here, since this is a family-friendly blog.

But all I can say to Ms. Reczek is that if I lived in Wisconsin I’d probably neck a quart or two of Jim Beam a day and I wouldn’t blame the ineffably charming Mrs. A if she joined me.

The rise and fall of Mallorca’s Madoff…‘Nice John’ Hirst – and how the £10M conman was finally nailed

DURING a lengthy trial at Bradford Crown Court, which ended yesterday, conman John Neil Hirst, aged 61, admitted his role in a Ponzi scheme, which saw British expats in Mallorca – many of them pensioners with limited saving – and investors in the UK duped out of an estimated £10-million.

His estranged wife, Linda, 62, was convicted on three charges of money laundering, involving sums totalling nearly £740,000. She was also found guilty of deception.

And Richard Pollett, a 70-year-old British accountant living in Mallorca, was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud.

The jury dismissed money laundering charges against Daniel Hirst, John Hirst’s 35-year-old solicitor son, and Zoe Waite, 37, Linda Hirst’s daughter.

Trial judge, Jonathan Durham Hall QC, will pass sentences on August 31.

However, at the request of several victims of the scam, I’ve been asked to narrate the story of my cameo role in helping to expose Hirst and spark off the long investigation that resulted in the greedy, fork-tongued hustler and his sidekicks being nailed.

Others – especially two redoubtable women victims – deserve full credit for their unwavering determination in ensuring the man nicknamed ‘Nice John’ faced justice.

* * * * * * * * * *

In the many years of living within a few kilometres of each other on Mallorca, John Hirst and I never met, but I knew him by reputation as an pushy social climber, weaving his web around the island’s British expatriate social circuit.

In fact, he joined almost every club that met for a jolly – from the exclusive Santa Ponsa Country Club, a prestigious local golf club to The 41 Club, English Speakers Residents Association and the Majorca Cricket Club.

Hirst was an impeccably-dressed charmer, glad-handing all within touching distance, oozing confidence and bonhomie, a stellar presence at any shindig, who’d assembled an impressive network of contacts, including Paul Abrey, the British Consul.

Meanwhile, the jovial Yorkshireman ensured the rumour mill buzzed with word that he possessed the Midas touch in transforming meagre saving into small fortunes through his Gilher investment fund.

He certainly lived up to every euro of a millionaire financier’s lifestyle…the lavish villa, a Mercedes for him, a chic convertible for wife Linda, exotic holidays, designer wardrobes and expensive bling, not forgetting the obligatory motor yacht.

A  real, Mallorcan success story, you’d think, for a man from Brighouse, West Yorkshire, who arrived on the island in 2003, apparently penniless – according to a source – and forced to eke out a living as a day labourer, commuting to jobs on a push-bike from a rented flat in Calvia Town.

CONMAN THEN: How Mallorcan victims will remember Hirst

However, this can be an Alice in Wonderland place, overflowing with Walter Mitty characters, who come here and invent new identities for themselves. Most are harmless fantasists, but some are trouble and, in those days, free-spending Hirst – nicknamed ‘Nice John’ by all who crossed his cheating path – had me wondering which of the two categories he fell into.

Then, at a birthday party in 2006, a chance conversation about Hirst with an acquaintance finally triggered my instincts that maybe lurking beneath the beaming, perma-tanned veneer lay a shameless crook.

The acquaintance, an expat of long standing, knew I was working on a story about a German conman, who was offering an eight percent return to investors, but had disappeared owing over two million euros.

‘Eight percent is peanuts,’ said my acquaintance and he told me he had his money with ‘a bloke who delivers 18 percent a year, even 20 if you let it roll over.’

Intrigued, I asked who was this financial wizard and the reply came, ‘John Hirst, though everyone calls him ‘Nice John’, because he’s the nicest guy you could ever meet.’

Frankly, I told the expat, the rewards sounded too incredible – banks were then only offering a few percent, even before the Eurozone crisis brought markets crashing.

Out of curiosity, the following day I put in a call to London, where my daughter is a divisional director of an international bank, and asked her whether it was possibly for a fund manager to guarantee 20 percent annual returns for clients.

Lauren simply said, ‘Never in your wildest dreams, Dad. Nobody can consistently deliver that. Think about it…if someone’s paying 20 percent a year, they have to be making up to 40 to cover their own profits, commissions and overheads. It’s pure fantasy.’

As an extra check, I contacted the Financial Securities Authority (FSA), the British government’s City regulator, to see if  John Hirst or his Gilher fund were listed. Both drew blanks. Nor were they on the rolls of the USA’s Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), which polices Wall Street.

CONMAN NOW: Fraudster Hirst en route to Bradford Crown Court – photo: Courtesy of Wakefield Express

As a reporter I’ve covered several cases of pyramid fraud – or Ponzi schemes, after the 1920s US con artist, Charles Ponzi – and, unerringly, they follow a similar pattern: glib deceptions, pandering to people’s weakness over money.

Invariably, they are run by a plausible operator you’d be proud to call your best buddy, who oozes wealth and, obligingly, is happy to share the secrets of his success.

He brags about his infallible system and the investor – ‘dupe’ or ‘mark’ in Ponzi parlance – is so intoxicated with the notion of making his cash go a country mile further than any legitimate financial institution, he quickly put his money where his mouth is, without even doing any basic due diligence checks with the FSA or SEC.

However, if any lingering doubts exist, they are allayed when the fraudster starts to deliver on his shallow promises. Each month an interest payment arrives and, to add legitimacy to the fraud, it’s followed by a statement, showing the investor’s capital intact and even growing.

It leaves the ‘mark’ believing the golden goose is no fairytale after all and is laying its eggs on his doorstep.

So happy is he, he can’t wait to share news of his good fortune with friends and family, and they, too, can’t wait to plough in their savings and reap a dividend beyond belief. Hence the ‘pyramid’ is being constructed

What they don’t realises is they are being repaid with a fraction of their own capital, while the bulk is being hived off by the scammer. And, as long as fresh cash feeds the bonfire of financial vanities, the ‘long con’ continues for years, as Bernie Madoff proved over three decades of suckering New York’s finest.

Inevitably, the day of reckoning arrives and the ‘sting’ is exposed.

In Hirst’s case, it was the looming, financial storm clouds. With fewer people to dupe, the cash pyramid was depleting fast and he was struggling to repay clients.

Realising the con had run its course, he decided to scarper before the law stepped in. And, naturally, he had a plausible excuse for doing so.

With wife Linda, Hirst decamped back to Britain around August, 2009, claiming he was seriously ill, yet assuring investors their money was safe and he’d return it once the so-called Gilher fund was liquidated.

It was a classic stunt. Hirst was using the sympathy vote to buy time, fend off creditors, and perhaps disperse whatever remained of his ill-gotten gains.

However, what clinched my ultimate suspicions were the conman’s final acts before vanishing from Mallorca.

He sold his Mercedes and Linda’s convertible at knock-down prices and disposed of his motor yacht. Plus, according to local sources, he’d had his Santa Ponsa home valued at €1.25 million, which – minus the €350,000 mortgage – would give him a generous profit when sold.

CONMAN’S DREAM HOME: Hirst’s €1.25M villa in Santa Ponsa – Photo copyright: Hugh Ash

The autumn sun rose late on Saturday, October 31, 2009, but by 10.00 a.m. its rays were dazzling in a blissfully cloudless sky that was the deep, iridescent blue unique to the Med at that time of year.

I’d been toiling hard, revising my first novel – The Mallorcan Assignment, a high-tension thriller about jihadi terrorists plotting a bombing outrage – which was due for publication the following spring, and the fortitude of my ever-patient wife, Barbara, was nearing its limits. So it was decided we’d picnic on the beach, relax and I’d turn my attentions to the mental aerobics of a cryptic crossword.

Then the phone rang. It was Barbara’s sister, Janet Corbin. A lady not prone to histrionics, she sounded upset and asked plaintively if she could she come and discuss an urgent problem.

Janet arrived, sat on the sofa and somehow remained rational enough to say, ‘I think I’ve been stupid and might have lost €200,000 in an investment fund.’

In her 60s, a divorcee and teacher, I knew it was a colossal sum for her to risk.

Clutched in her hand was a file of papers relating to a fund called Gilher Inc., managed by a John Hirst and based in the Seychelles, a location that filled me with little confidence and rekindled all my earlier suspicions about ‘Nice John’.

In his introductory letter Hirst claimed to have long experience in financial services, was semi-retired, but still played the markets with consistent success. Friends and family placed money with him and now he was prepared to put his expertise at the service of others.

The letter stated, ‘I trade movements on the Dow Jones Index, rather than buying individual shares, using technical analysis to give me a feel for which way the market is moving.

‘While the system is not an exact science it works sufficiently well to enable me to guarantee a 20% return per annum to clients. This is made up by 1.5% per month and a year-end bonus of 2% provided the original investment continues. The minimum investment is £10,000 or the €uro/US$ equivalent.’

Despite her outward calm, Janet’s stoicism was fading as I scanned the ‘simple contract’, as Hirst described it, before trousering her cash. The deal had been struck five months earlier, in June, but she’d received only two monthly ‘interest’ payments, totalling €6,000.

Like all Gilher investors I know of – including my 2006 birthday party acquaintance – Janet has received not a centimo since.

What my sister-in-law was able to provide, however, were the names of a clutch of other Hirst clients, some of whom had been introduced by Richard Pollett, a Santa Ponsa-based British accountant I’d played tennis with occasionally.

Meanwhile, I examined Hirst’s paperwork with mounting disbelief. A semi-literate 14-year-old could have written it better. There was no letter-heading, it was unprofessional and notably absent was any mention of company registration, dealer license, regulator or compliance with anti-money laundering regulations – all the requirements to trade in financial services.

What Janet said next, though, disturbed me even more. Teary-eyed, she noted chillingly, ‘I have to face up to the prospect of losing almost everything.’

Then she pleaded, ‘You’re an investigative journalist, Hugh, so find out if this scheme is legitimate. If it isn’t, then help me bring Hirst to justice.’

At noon that gloriously Saturday, I started work on a quest to discover where Janet’s money had gone, if Gilher was legal and where Hirst was. Little did I realise then that in the next month, working night and day, I’d make hundreds of phone calls – many to the Britain and America – and my email inbox would overflow with messages from anxious investors.

Within the next few days I’d interviewed at least a half-dozen of them, most delivered into Hirst’s grasping clutches by Pollett.

One, a Midlands businessman, had become so frustrated about not being able to access his money, he’d laid an official complaint – a denuncia – before a Palma court and vainly tried to get the Spanish National Police to investigate.

My trail then led to an investor who prefers to remain anonymous, but was also trying vainly to trace her nemesis in the UK.

Together we tracked a UK phone number for Linda Hirst, listed in her maiden name of Waite, to the Byfleet area of Surrey. Although her calls to it went unanswered, the location was to play a critical role in Hirst’s unmasking.

MIDDLEMAN: Accountant Richard Pollett, found guilty of conspiracy to defraud – Photo copyright: Hugh Ash

On November 5, she asked me to meet her and some fellow investors at a local cafe to give them an update on my research and suggest some options for them.

Before doing so I contacted Pollett and interviewed him in Santa Ponsa. He brought along a thick file – presumably details of clients he’d introduced to Hirst – and claimed his wife, Gill, was an investor, as was his daughter’s trust fund.

What I wanted to know was why a supposedly savvy financial advisor believed it possible for someone to deliver 20 percent dividends per annum, guaranteed.

‘You don’t know John,’ Pollett insisted. ‘And it’s possible.’

‘Well nobody’s done it yet, so I suppose he could be a first,’ I replied cynically.

Next I asked how much investors’ savings he’d channelled into Gilher. After a long moment, he admitted, ‘About ten to twelve million.’

I stifled a gasp, before suggesting, ‘Doesn’t it look dodgy to you, Richard?’

Pollett stared back blankly and didn’t answer.

At 4.00 p.m. I met the unnamed investor and her friends. Only there were about 40 of them, all wearing the same, strained, bewildered

Several familiar faces were in the gathering and only then did it register how many gullible folk were victims of what was increasingly looking to me like an unscrupulous, hard-nosed swindle.

Breaking bad news is never easy. And, even though, at that time, there could have been a genuine explanation for the behaviour of the man all still referred to as ‘Nice John’, I was convinced they’d been duped, though I was reluctant to say as much.

So I eased the pain as gently as possible, saying that if Hirst had their money, he could come forward and repay it, but he needed to be flushed out through the oxygen of publicity.

Firstly, I suggested the investors denounce Hirst as a group directly to the Spanish police, not via a judge in Palma, who might take months to order a probe.

Secondly, I calculated a newspaper story of their plight, preferably in a UK national publication, would also pressure the authorities to act.

However, for the ensuing days I continued to interview other Gilher clients and all echoed a familiar theme: they’d been lulled by Hirst – some coerced by Pollett – into parting with sums ranging from a few thousand to €1.5million.

I then traced Billy Morris, the conman’s handyman, to El Toro, where the big, moustachioed northerner was happy to talk about his best friend and boss, ‘Nice John’.

‘Great bloke,’ Billy insisted, before telling me it was he who ferried the Hirsts’ personal possessions back to Britain, receiving telephone instructions where to deliver the goods after he arrived in Dover.

‘Where did John Hirst tell you to go?’ I asked.

Billy wasn’t sure, only that it was a self-storage repository, painted yellow and less than a two-hour’s drive away, where Hirst was waiting.

‘Does the name Byfleet sound familiar?’ I asked.

Billy pondered, then nodded.

‘Did you take any papers back,’ I queried next.

‘Yes, in a big box – I think it was marked ‘clients’,’ replied Billy, of whom there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing.

The conversation then turned to what services he performed for Hirst. He chauffeured him sometimes, he said, looked after odd jobs around the house and garden and, once a month, posted a batch of between 120 and 130 letters.

‘They were statement to clients,’ explained Billy. ‘About half went to people in Mallorca, the rest mainly to addresses in Britain.’

I immediately recognised the importance of the British connection, because it would become pivotal in bringing in the UK authorities.

Back at my office, I did a Google Earth search of Byfleet. On its fringes was a repository with space to rent: aptly it was called The Big Yellow Storage Unit.

MARRIED MAN: Divorcee Hirst and new wife, Linda, at their €200,000  wedding in Mallorca, where many of his ‘clients’ were guests

So, towards the end of a frenzied fortnight, having put together the jigsaw of Hirst’s great escape from Mallorca, there was enough murk surrounding him to justify a news story, detailing the investors alarm at his actions, and The Sunday Telegraph was keen to print it.

To flag it up in advance, I called Britain’s Serious Fraud Squad (SFO) and explained a Sunday newspaper was running a piece on John Hirst’s dubious Gilher fund and his disappearance back to Britain. Their reaction was instant and positive.

The SFO asked for every piece of information I had, including a CD of the Hirsts’ €200,000 wedding in 2006 at the opulent Maricel Hotel, where US President Bill Clinton once stayed. To add salt to their wounds, many of the investors were guests.

And, around mid-day on Friday, November 12, I received a call from an SFO contact, who said, ‘We’re at The Big Yellow Storage Unit in Byfleet and we’ve found a lot of interesting stuff.’

It needed no spelling out that this was the paper trail of investors’ cash and, for the first time, I felt certain the Hirst/Gilher case was being taken seriously, even though – as I’d warned the gathering of investors – it could take years to bring a case to court.

Two days later the story, headlined: ‘Majorca-based British financier probed by Serious Fraud Squad’ appeared in The Sunday Telegraph, revealing the fears of desperate investors.

I covered the Mallorca angle, while reporters in Britain discovered the fraudster had returned to his modest home at Warren Farm Home Park, Woking, before scurrying north to Yorkshire, where – according to his solicitor – he was receiving treatment for myeloid leukaemia.

A few days later, I read an anonymous message posted on Majorca Cricket Club’s website, inferring Hirst had once served a prison term for fraud, which I’d long suspected.

Tracking down the message-poster in England, I discovered it was a relative of Hirst, who claimed ‘Nice John’ even scammed a member of his own family.

More digging in the UK by reporters in Yorkshire revealed details of Hirst’s first fraud trial. So, the following Sunday a further story appeared in The Telegraph, headlined, ‘Majorca-based British financier investigated by SFO convicted of offence in 1990s.’

It reported Hirst served 30 months (of a two-and-a-half-year sentence) in 1992 for defrauding miners out £211,000, while working as a salesman for Allied Dunbar.

Eventually, Hirst was questioned by the SFO and, in April, 2011, charged with conspiracy to defraud and money laundering. Wife Linda, Hirst’s son Daniel, a Bradford lawyer, and Linda’s daughter, Zoe Waite, were later charged with various counts of money laundering.

After several months on remand in Palma Prison, Pollett was extradited from Mallorca and charged with conspiracy.

CHARITY MAN: Hirst with ex-Leeds United soccer star, Norman Hunter (left), at a charity, pro-am golf tournament in Mallorca

As I said in the premable, this has just been the story of my minor role in exposing John Hirst as the devious, wicked and thoroughly unscrupulous conman he is.

Others deserve acclaim in forcing the authorities in Britain and Spain into making sure Mallorca’s Madoff and his partners in crime were prosecuted and received the full force of the law.

And the true heroines in this are two relentless victims of the vicious scam: Janet Corbin and the lady who prefers to remain unnamed.

They drove the case forward, helped police gather evidence, chivvied reluctant witnesses into speaking up and went through nearly three years of hell to see Hirst tried before a British judge.

They paid for their efforts in terms of health – caused by physical and mental anguish – yet never relented in their quest.

The SFO says compensation proceedings are to follow and I dearly hope the £5-million still unaccounted for is identified.

Meanwhile, if it counts for anything, victims of John and Linda Hirst, along with Richard Pollett, have received justice, such as it is, and they owe Janet Corbin and my unnamed friend a huge debt.

Finally, this story is in memory of three Gilher investor, who tragically didn’t live to see their retribution – John Rule, Sue Schuber and Victor Hearmon.

© Hugh Ash 2012. Re-publication of this matter, in full or part, is strictly prohibited without prior permission of the writer

We did it our way and London made Britain proud!

I don’t want to get into name-calling and carping of Olympic Games past, because each one had the indelible imprint of its host country’s culture.

And so it was with London 2012.

Whether it bettered the tightly-disciplined Beijing event or was as ‘fun-tastic’ as Sydney is for others to decide. All I can say of Britain’s endeavors – in terms of handsome stadia, organisation (despite the security recruitment fiasco of G4S) and competitors who delivered so much glory – is ‘We did it our way’, to paraphrase Frank Sinatra’s evergreen hit.

And, as a Brit, it made me immensely proud.

LONDON’S PRIDE: A curtain of fireworks signals the Games’ finale

Probably the best summary I’ve read so far comes from retired diplomat Charles Crawford, founder of ADRg Ambassadors.

Writing in today’s Daily Telegraph, he said: ‘Both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and the Games themselves sent much more important messages round the planet.

‘They presented a free, dynamic, confident, creative, inclusive, efficient, successful and inventive country, in which women and men alike stand tall.

‘And while most countries round the world enjoy some of those attributes, only a tiny number seriously can claim to meet them all.’

If there were any glitches, they belonged to the various sporting organisations under the umbrella of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Boxing was one, where some of the scoring beggared belief; swimming was another, simply because too many medals were doled out in one sport.

And, despite reports that outgoing BBC Director General Mark Thompson was ‘increasingly unhappy that we are focusing far too much on Team GB’s performance to the exclusion of all else’, old Auntie Beeb did an outstanding job covering so many events in such fine detail. Clearly many lessons were learned from the Corporation’s lamentable coverage of The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Of the presenters, for my money Clare Balding outshone the lot. She was a colossus of knowledge, completely unfazed by the challenge, a professional totally in command of her brief.

Contrarily, Matt Baker’s a highly likable lad, but should stick to his day job on The One Show and Countryfile. Where anchoring the Games was concerned, sadly he was an also-ran.

So, on to Rio in 2016, where I’m certain the Brazilians will deliver a spectacle buzzing with pizzazz and panache.

Nonetheless, London 2012 will be a hard act for any host city to follow.