Bankers and consultants 'participated in £245m loans scam'


Bankers and consultants took part in a £245 million loan scam which saw funds splashed on high-end prostitutes and luxury holidays, a court has heard.

Up until 2007, Lynden Scourfield, 54, was lead director of impaired assets for Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS) based in Reading, Berkshire, which provided advice to corporate customers experiencing financial difficulties, jurors at Southwark Crown Court were told.

David Mills, a former banker-turned-venture capitalist, was engaged frequently by Scourfield, who is not on trial, as a "turnaround consultant" to help improve these customers' businesses.

During 2003-2007 a corrupt relationship between Scourfield and Mills, 59, developed which was "at the heart of this case", Judge Martin Beddoe told the jury.

Scourfield advanced huge sums to the businesses from HBOS, "well past the point when it would have been obvious to any honest banker that the bank debt could and would never be repaid", prosecutor Brian O'Neill said as he opened the case.

This enabled Mills and some of the others to charge high consultancy fees which they profited from, and in some cases run the businesses for their own gain, he alleged.

Mills, and his wife Alison Mills, 51, from Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire; Michael Bancroft, 73; Mark Dobson, 55; Jonathan Cohen, 57; and John Cartwright, 71, appeared in the dock at Southwark Crown Court on Monday.

The list of charges includes conspiracy to corrupt, fraudulent trading and conspiracy to conceal criminal property.

All wore dark suits, while Mrs Mills wore a black and white patterned dress.

Gifts are alleged to have been given to Scourfield from Mills, which took the form of use of an American Express card, luxurious holidays and sex with high-class escorts, the court heard.

Watched by a packed public gallery, Mr O'Neill said: "The motivation was greed. The police investigation uncovered evidence of huge rewards provided by Mills to Scourfield to effect his corruption.

"This took the form of money transfers, cash, expensive gifts, use of an American Express card for personal spending, unauthorised and inappropriately lavish hospitality, luxurious foreign travel and sexual encounters with high-class escorts."

More than £28 million passed though the personal accounts of Mr and Mrs Mills, or the accounts of various of Mills' corporate entities, Mr O'Neill said.

Mrs Mills was described by the prosecutor as an "active participant" in her husband's schemes, but said she had merely played a "supporting role" as his wife.

She invited Dobson and the Scourfields to go on trips to Ascot, the court heard, while the Millses, Bancroft, Scourfield and their wives holidayed together in Barbados to celebrate her 40th birthday.

Meanwhile, Scourfield was described by Mr O'Neill as "the goose who was laying the golden eggs", having "eagerly consumed" the bribes he was being fed by Mr Mills.

He was helped in his attempt to disguise the sums by his accountant, Jonathan Cohen from Pinner, Middlesex, the court heard.

Mr O'Neill continued: "David Mills just had to keep feeding him. And feed him he did."

Three companies were outlined as illustrating the pattern which saw "already vulnerable businesses being further run down by incompetency or as a deliberate policy or as a combination of the two".

Clode, a finance company originally set up to provide interest-free credit to consumers in high-street shops, was operating within its £2.9 million overdraft in 2002 when a meeting was held to discuss its financial position, the court heard.

But its total indebtedness to the bank in 2007 when Scourfield resigned was £20.558 million - with Mr O'Neill claiming it was "a cash cow - the bank within the bank".

And between Theros, a holding company for an established tie-making business, and Remnant, publishers of porn magazines, a significant amount of money was allegedly paid.

This was despite the two companies being "wholly unrelated", except for the common involvement of Mills, Bancroft and Scourfield.

Bancroft, from Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire, is said to have received £1 million in direct, traceable payments from Mills' company and the high-risk companies being helped by HBOS.

He was Mills' "man on the ground", engaged as a consultant to some of the businesses, "overseeing their demise and enriching himself in the process," Mr O'Neill said.

Cartwright, from Hyde, Cheshire, received unauthorised payments totalling around £200,000 as a result of his trading, and Dobson, from Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, received £30,000 in corrupt payments and benefited from inappropriate hospitality, the court heard. The trial is expected to last up to six months.