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.
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.
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.