Castle Acre businessman found guilty over £160 million broadband contract scam

Stephen Dartnell
Stephen Dartnell
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A West Norfolk businessman has been convicted for his part in a scam involving super-fast broadband contracts, which conned banks out of £160 million.

A jury at Southwark Crown Court has found Stephen Dartnell, 60, of Bailey Street, Castle Acre, guilty on two charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and one count of conspiring to give corrupt payments.

Three other men have also been found guilty of offences relating to the conspiracy.

All four have been remanded in custody and are due to be sentenced on Friday. Two further defendants were cleared.

The case centres around the activities of two companies – Total Asset Finance Ltd (TAF), which collapsed in 2011 and H2O Networks.

H20 offered to roll out fibre optic cables across Britain, using sewers as channels for the cabling, and targeted public bodies such as local authorities, universities, colleges and the NHS with long-term payment contracts.

They were then sold to TAF, who presented bogus deals to two banks in order to secure huge loans, that were passed to H20 through them.

The court was told Belgian bank KBC paid out more than £142 million in 42 transactions over a three year period between 2007 and 2010.

Barclays also parted with just under £17 million in three transactions between January 2009 and November 2010.

David Aaronberg QC, prosecuting, said the gang mixed legitimate documents with forgeries in order to make false contracts seem more convincing.

He added: “A completely false picture was being painted.”

The court was told that Dartnell, who acted as the managing director of TAF, paid nearly £900,000 in backhanders to one of his co-defendants, who worked at KBC, to secure approval of the funding.

Following the verdicts, David Green QC, director of the Serious Fraud Office, said: “This was a carefully planned, complex and lucrative fraud which ran over three years.

“It took a determined investigation to ensure that those responsible for it were brought to justice.

“We will now turn our attention to securing confiscation of criminal assets from those convicted.”