1,000 lose £20m in ‘fields of gold’ landbank fraud

1,000 lose £20m in ‘fields of gold’ landbank fraud

A trio allegedly defrauded 1,000 people out of £20m after persuading them to invest their savings in Britain’s ‘fields of gold’, a court has heard.

Investors were offered “eye-watering rates of return” if they ploughed their cash into tiny pieces of worthless land in the four-year scam.

Southwark Crown Court heard that victims were cold-called by smooth-talking salesmen and sent glossy brochures promising that the value of land they bought would soar as there were developers eager to build on it.

But in reality the £20,000 plots were not even large enough to build a single house on, and most investors never saw a penny of their money again.

The racket was exposed by a television journalist who posed as a potential client and recorded conversations he had with “class-act” salesman Stuart Cohen.

Former Asset Land Investment directors Cohen, 67, David Banner-Eve, 55, and Cohen’s former partner Susan Siggins, 54, are accused of conspiracy to defraud at Southwark Crown Court.

Prosecutor Paul Taylor said: “These three defendants operated a con, a scam, which related to a large number of members of the public being tricked into parting with large sums of money for small plots of land.

“It is called landbanking, we say this is a landbanking fraud.”

Clients were sold land on sites in Lutterworth, Leicestershire; Newbury, Berkshire; Huby, near Harrogate in north Yorkshire and a site near Stansted, Essex, jurors heard.

The scam started in 2008 when people were desperate to find a better place to invest their money than the banks, jurors heard.

Victims of the fraud were cold-called and later sent glossy brochures that promised fantastic returns if they invested in Britain’s ‘fields of gold’, the court heard.

The company also boasted it had well-known developers Henry Boot and Wimpey Homes “waiting in the wings” to buy the land, it was said.

Mr Taylor said: “Just in case that wasn’t enough, they had what you may call an exit strategy because they supported these misrepresentations by saying if you want your money back at any stage you can have it.

“They made out it was a win-win situation.

“People were told over the phone ‘it is safer than putting your money in the banks’.

A typical plot of 1,000 square feet would cost £20,000 but was not even big enough to build a house on, jurors were told.

Not a single investor received a penny of profit from their investments and most lost everything they put into the scheme.

The companies used ‘virtual’ office addresses at 64 Knightsbridge and at Hanover Square in Mayfair to lend a veneer of respectability to the scam, it was said.

Banner-Eve, of Essex, Cohen, of West Hampstead, northwest London and Siggins, of Isleworth, Middlesex, all deny conspiracy to defraud.