Antingham and Southrepps School among phone conmen’s victims
Fraudsters who conned small businesses and schools - including one in north Norfolk - out of thousands of pounds over a five-year period have finally been brought to justice.
Christopher Boughton-Fox, who was chairman of Great Yarmouth-based Business Telecom Ltd, was on Wednesday found guilty of consipiring to defraud companies.
He was warned he faces imprisonment when he is sentenced along with other members of his team.
Organisations were fleeced by the company, whose smooth-talking sales staff lied to customers as they tied them into long-running contracts to secure lucrative commissions.
Antingham and Southrepps Primary School near North Walsham was among those targeted.
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Head teacher Sue Day said: 'We needed a new phone system. They cold-called us and said they ere part of the Espo contract to supply schools which is approved by the local authority, and we thought that they must be ok, but they lied about that.
'They also said they were the business arm of British Telecom, so I thought they were fine on two counts.
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'When they came to visit they said the contract had to be for seven years. I said I did not want that, but they said we could get out of it after three years. I was conned by that. I stupidly did not check they were Espo approved. I was a bit naive, and I had only just started here, so it was a long time ago.
'We have not been able to afford to buy ourselves out of the contact. I don't know exactly how much it has cost the school, but it's more than if we had taken a contract out the a proper Espo-approved business.
'The equipment we got from them is anyway just plastic phone handsets that you could probably buy for �5.
'They money would have been better spent on educating children rather than paying huge phone bills. Some people have been left very much out of pocket, but I'm pleased they can no longer con people,' she added.
Norfolk County Council's Trading Standards carried out an intensive and extensive investigation following complaints from businesses about Business Telecom's sales techniques, which saw Business Telecom's turnover grow from �350,000 in 1999 to �4.5m in 2007.
During the trial, 51 victims, including small schools and charities, gave evidence. The typical cost of a lease agreement that businesses were led to sign-up to saw them paying on average �21,000 over a seven-year period.
After the verdict, David Collinson, head of Public Protection, Norfolk County Council, said some victims had been left with 'real financial difficulties.'
Boughton-Fox, 48, from Yarmouth Road, Thorpe St Andrew had a salary of �600,000 and bought the luxury Thorpe Hall, which has now been sold, from the proceeds, while sales manager Jonathan Parish earned up to �40,000 in a good month.
He was found guilty of conning businesses and schools in Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex out of hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Boughton-Fox had denied conspiring to defraud businesses and individuals of more than �100,000 between 2003 and 2008, but was found guilty by a 10 to two majority verdict after a 10-week trial at Ipswich Crown Court.
Also before the court was Jonathan Parish, 42, of The Hills, Reedham, who denied the same charge and was found guilty on Monday.
Boughton-Fox and Parish will be sentenced at Ipswich Crown Court on April 27 along with another employee Neil Debenham, 28, of East Somerton, near Winterton, who admitted the same charge at an earlier hearing.
A fourth employee Daniel Cullen, 28, of Hatfield, Herts also previously admitted conspiracy to defraud and will be sentenced at St Albans Crown Court at a later date.
? There was better news for the school in the latest batch of Lottery grants, which have given it �9,570 to develop its outdoor learning facilities featured in last week's News. The cash will be used to train teachers and volunteers, and buy equipment to deliver outdoor learning through the Forest School initiative, which helps children to explore the outdoor environment and develop skills such as cooperation and using their initiative.