AN INCOMPETENT businessman offering dream park homes for sale cheated his victims out of thousands of pounds in a bid to revive his struggling business, a court heard.
Dad-of-five Barry Leigh dreamed of leaving a ‘legacy’ for his family through his firm Dream Coastal and Country Homes Ltd.
But after laundering £626,000 and cheating vulnerable victims out of thousands – leaving one family living in laybys – his dream is in ruins and victims’ families are left living in a nightmare.
The 63-year-old, of Magennis Close, Gosport, used ‘considerable skills of persuasion’ to defraud two couples while fraudulently running his company.
Steve and Lilian Ritchie lost around £140,000 after moving home to land in Halsinger they thought they could live on - only to spend 16 months in a caravan in laybys when Leigh’s fraud unravelled.
Speaking outside court, Mr Ritchie 46, said: ‘None of us are the same as we were, we were all happy people.’
His wife Lilian, 63, added: ‘We thought we were going to be starting a new life, not only has it been a disaster but there’s no picking up the pieces for us.
‘There’s no in “three years time we’ll be out on licence” and everything will be lovely for us, this is a life sentence for us
Another victim, Karen Laws, had sold all of her furniture and was ready to start a new life - but ended up losing tens of thousands.
In statement read in court she said: ‘We can see no way out of this dire situation, either now or in the future.
‘Our lives have effectively been ruined by this man.’
Prosecutor Edward Elton said: ‘He would sometimes not be able to buy the site, sometimes not be able to develop the site, and sometimes neither be able to buy it or develop it.
‘Sadly, this did not stop the defendant from offering the plots of sale or taking money from those who responded to the advertisements.’
When Leigh could not deliver a plot, he would offer a different one, Mr Elton said.
‘He used considerable skills of persuasion to string victims along.’
Leigh even showed Humberts estate agents a forged £981,000 bank statement as he tried to secure deals.
In court it was revealed he admitted to Hampshire Trading Standards he only forged the statement to make them ‘comfortable’ that he had the cash.
Mr Elton told how ‘excuse followed excuse’ when he was being chased by the victims where earlier ‘promise followed promise’.
Even when he was caught by trading standards and pleaded guilty he still claimed he could pay back the cash.
At a hearing in April he admitted a string of charges and was given time to pay back money.
But today judge Roger Hetherington branded Leigh - who swapped his legal representation between the plea date and today - as ‘incompetent’ and barred him from running a company.
The judge said: ‘No finality was produced, no compensation was made to the victims and no further progress made.
‘The promises that you made on May 23 have, as per usual, turned out to be pretty worthless.’
Sentencing, the judge said: ‘I regard this as fraudulent incompetence and naivety rather than an intentional case of fleecing individuals.’
The judge added: ‘You were undoubtedly inexperienced and incompetent and you soon ran into difficulties.
‘You then made the fatal error of carrying on fobbing off various customers with promises that you couldn’t keep and hoping to trade out of the worsening financial situation.
‘And all the while large sums were being extracted from actual or potential customers.’
In court Anne Brown, for Leigh, said he started the business legitimately, which was accepted by the judge, with cash from his son Nicholas Leigh, who gave evidence today.
Speaking of the start of the business, the son said: ‘His house had been repossessed, he was in quite a bad way, he talked about getting back on his feet and talked about a business that could be his legacy to the family selling park homes.’
And in a letter read to court, convicted fraudster Leigh said ‘I understand, appreciate and empathise with the devastation.’
He added he was ‘truly ashamed that I should be the cause of that devastation’.
The court heard Leigh was jailed in 1992 for four years, for two thefts and nine offences of obtaining by deception.
Leigh, a carer for his wife, admitted fraudulent trading between August 7, 2013 and July 26, 2014, two charges of fraud by false representation, forgery of a bank account statement, use of a false instrument and money laundering.
He admitted the charges on a basis he started the business legitimately.