Conman Stuart Porter who posed as an antiques expert was jailed for five years and four months on Friday after carrying out a quarter of a million pounds fraud.
Porter, 57, posed as an antiques expert and lived the lifestyle of a celebrity boasting that he had links with the Michelin starred chef Marco Pierre White.
But in reality Porter had a criminal record for dishonesty going back 40 years and had served previous jail sentences for theft and deception.
Lincoln Crown Court heard that although his Stuart Porter Antiques Centre in Broad Street, Stamford, began as a legitimate business he soon got into financial problems and began fobbing off clients who had given him valued antiques to sell.
In the summer of 2013 the business closed suddenly with the shop being completely emptied of stock.
Porter disappeared and police received a string of complaints from customers and other businesses he owed money.
It took police a month to track him down to Yarm, North Yorkshire, where he was using a false name and had started a new business called Lovejoy Antiques.
Some of the items he was selling belonged to people who had trusted him with their antiques in Stamford.
Martin Hurst, prosecuting, said: “Those who consigned their goods to him did so because they trusted him because he was running what looked like a smart shop on the High Street. These were principally elderly people in possession of property they had owned for many years.
“The sad reality is that a very large number of people were persuaded by the attractive way in which the shop was displayed. It appeared to be above board and proper. He was able to play the role of the knowledgeable antiques dealer.
“He always had plenty of cash, generally drove nice cars and was living in nice houses but didn’t pay the rent. He sent his children to private schools but didn’t pay the fees. He was someone living beyond his means at everyone else’s expense.”
Mr Hurst said more than £120,000 worth of antiques went missing from the Stamford shop although around half was later recovered and returned to their owners. There are still about £60,000 of good unaccounted for.
Porter also conned investors who loaned him thousands of pounds cash after he promised them generous rates of return if they put their money into an electrical export business he said he was running. Porter said he was able to reclaim equipment from redundant buildings and export the items to Mexico and Russia at a large profit.
The court was told that Porter was first convicted of dishonesty back in 1974.
In the early 1980s he received an 18 month jail sentence for theft and deception and was sent to prison again in1991 for similar matters.
Porter, 57, of Eskdale Avenue, Corby, admitted a charge of fraudulent trading relating to Stuart Porter Antiques Ltd between January 1 and September 13, 2013. He also admitted five further charges of fraud on dates between January 1, 2011 and May 31, 2013. He was jailed for five years and four months.
Judge John Pini QC, passing sentence, told him: “You are a plausible and engaging conman. You have brought about very widespread distress to a great many people.
“This was a sustained abuse of trust with many people losing treasured items. I accept entirely that you started this business legitimately but when things started to go wrong you reverted to type.
“In 2012 you had a celebrity opening when the business was opened by the chef Marco Pierre White whom you had met previously. You were to trade on this brief acquaintanceship putting it around that you and he were going to open a pub in Norfolk.”
Lee Masters, defending, said that Porter had problems in the past with alcohol as well as various personal difficulties.
He said that since his arrest Porter has split up with his partner Maxine Norris and is suffering from poor health.
Maxine Norris, 54, of Bourne Street, Netherfield, Nottingham, and her daughter Sophie Norris, 22, of Annandale Road, Hull, each denied conspiracy to steal and fraudulent trading.
The prosecution offered no evidence against both of them and they were formally found not guilty.
When Stuart Porter Antiques closed unexpectedly in 2013, a number of customers contacted the Mercury to express dismay.
Among those was Sally Freestone, of Stamford, who this week said one of her items - a mirror had been recovered by police - but a chair, worth up to £200, was outstanding. She had left the items with Porter to be auctioned and he had successfully sold one item, for which Mrs Freestone received the cash.
She said: “He seemed an amenable and charming man and I didn’t feel I had any reason not to trust him. It’s not the monetary value of my chair - it’s that I trusted him.
“I feel totally cheated by him and I’m glad that the judicial process has shown him to deserve punishment.”
Joyce Bentley, of Blackstones Court, Stamford, left a number of items with Porter to be valued after he gave a talk at the complex. She said some toys had been recovered but some First World War memorabilia were outstanding. The value is unknown.
She said: “We were gutted when we found out our items were gone - we felt sick. We even went down to the shop ourselves to make sure it was true.”
Anthony Mills, from Peterborough, sold a Victorian crib in the shape of a rowing boat and a two-foot high globe to Stuart Porter for £500 shortly before the shop closed.
He was paid by cheque - but when Mr Mills attempted to pay it into his account, it bounced.
Mr Mills said he was “quietly pleased” Porter had been jailed, adding: “I went back to the shop to find out what was going on, but Stuart Porter wasn’t there. I explained my problem to an assistant who said she’d get him to give me a call but I never heard any more. When I went back to the shop again, it was closed. I had been into the shop lots of times before and had been paid in cash. He seemed like a friendly, trustworthy fellow and so when he asked if a cheque was OK I agreed. Since then I’m wary of accepting cheques.”