A BOGUS businessman is facing jail after admitting a £600,000 con fraudulently selling plots of land for dream lodge homes on sprawling estates.
Barry Leigh charmed his victims who thought him ‘eccentric’ but trusted him with hundreds of thousands of pounds.
They visited the land he swore was his to sell, with one couple setting up in a caravan after selling their home – only to be moved on by the real landowner.
Now after admitting forgery, money laundering and a string of frauds through Dream Coastal and Country Homes, the 63-year-old is facing prison.
Carpenter Steve Ritchie, 46, and his disabled wife Lilian, 59, lost everything when they handed over around £140,000 to Leigh, of Magennis Close, Gosport.
They were forced to send away their beloved grandson, who lived with them, when they discovered land at Halsinger, Braunton, Devon, was not Leigh’s to sell.
Having given up their adapted home in Leicester, they bought a caravan to live in while the home was built – but ended up living in laybys for 16 months.
‘It just went from bad to worse and we ended up living in laybys,’ Steve said.
‘There was a time when me and my wife, we lost our home, son, everything.
‘We were contemplating suicide, that’s how low we had got to the point of “where do we go from here?”.
‘We had nothing but what we’d got round us. The old house was set up, adapted, for my wife but the park home life seemed idyllic.
‘Barry knew all that – he just blanked us and refused to pick up the phone.’
They are desperate to get their money back as it was Lilian’s inheritance.
John Pullen, prosecuting for Hampshire County Council, previously told city magistrates: ‘Mr Leigh is sole director of Dream Coastal and Country Homes, incorporated June 8, 2012.
‘This is a company selling lodge homes on estates in desirable locations primarily in the south or west of the UK.
‘He made false representations to the victims concerning the land.
‘He misled them into believing he owned the land and there was planning approval had been granted for siting lodge on the land. It transpires that none of those statements were true.
‘The consequences of this was that victims parted with considerable amounts of money.’
He added: ‘Some of the victims have lost absolutely everything and the effects have been devastating on them.’
Leigh admitted fraudulently trading between August 7, 2013 and July 26, 2014, three charges of fraud by false representations to three victims, forgery of a bank account to show he had £980,121.35, and use of a false instrument – the statement – to fool Humberts Estates Agents. He also admitted laundering £620,145.
He pleaded guilty on the basis the firm was not a lie from the start and he believed he could bring it all together.
Adjourning at Portsmouth Crown Court, judge Roger Hetherington said: ‘I’m allowing you bail simply for you to put your affairs in order.’
We survived, but my life and health is trashed
THEY were attracted by the dream of an idyllic life in a lodge home.
Steve Ritchie had even started work on his 10-year-old grandson’s tree house.
He and wife Lilian, who is disabled, were set up in a caravan in Halsinger, Braunton, expecting to live out their days in bliss with their grandson.
But the vision came crashing down when the real landowner moved them on, telling them they had no claim to the land.
What followed was the unravelling of Barry Leigh’s deceit that had led them to part with around £140,000, and left them moving from layby to layby.
‘I can’t comprehend the level of despair that we’ve lived through,’ Lilian told The News.
‘Although we’ve survived and I’m still here, my life and health is trashed.
‘When the caravan was rocking side to side in the weather, I thought “who’s going to find us, what state will we be in?”.
‘It’s the most frightening thing I’ve ever experienced.
‘The things wrong with my health are things that will not get better. My heart was fine when I left Leicester, but I’ve been under a massive amount of stress since I left my home.’
Now the couple and their grandson, now 14, have been reunited and have been living in a bungalow since January, 2015.
They took their case to Hampshire County Council’s Trading Standards, which investigated and prosecuted Leigh.
He was due to stand trial on April 10 but pleaded guilty to six out of 14 charges, with the rest no longer pursued.