The transcripts of the official inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. More…

Yes, certainly. Fraudsters, by their nature, tend to make it hard to be found, not just by journalists like me but possibly by the police or trading standards, and not least by the people they've ripped off, who are likely to be quite unhappy. Some can go to great lengths to hide, others are less successful.

My concern about prior notification is that if it becomes an obligation to contact someone before you write about them, then the crooks, who are most successful at going to ground, are the ones you won't be able to write about. It also follows, I think, that they are the ones who have been the most successful rip-off artists because they then have the wherewithal to, for example, incorporate their company overseas or set up overseas PO Boxes or even be physically based overseas.

I was going to give you a quick example of two people running the same scam. One was quite easy to track down, another very hard. There was a more successful one who had made millions of pounds by ripping off the public who had fled overseas with his money.

Very briefly, the situation was this. It's a fairly modern scam and a rampant one. It's called land-banking. The FSA estimates that the public loss is about £200 million. Late last year, I looked at this issue and I found -- actually I found three people who had been running land-banking scams, which, very briefly, involve selling plots of fields to the public, saying that the value will rocket when the land gets planning permission for, say, housing. This never happens and the poor investors are left with worthless bits of field somewhere in the country.

I found the directors of -- three directors of two companies that had been put into compulsory liquidation in the High Court in the public interest in various parts of the UK, partly because they were stupid enough to have personal licence plates on their cars, which made them a little bit easier to find than might otherwise have been the case.

There was a director of a fourth company, and this particular company had ripped off the public for around £20 million. That's not my guess; that's the figure given by the liquidator of the company, and the individual, the sole director, had done a bunk. He'd left to a -- last heard of by the liquidator in Cyprus and even the liquidator had no -- the liquidator had met him in Cyprus but in neutral territory, it was a hotel, and had no further contact details for this person, and I certainly had no way at all of getting in contact with him.

So if prior notification is going to become the law, the result will be: I could have run a story about those first three directors who I found and contacted, but not about the fourth director, who was the biggest offender and who ripped off the public for the largest sum of money.

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech