Castle Acre businessman jailed for 15 years over £160 million scam

Pic shows Stephen Dartnell'Councils looking to become 'fibre optic cities' were left in the dark about the business dealings of companies offering to provide the service, a court heard.'Warrington-based Total Asset Finance Ltd (TAF) which collapsed in 2011 was said to be at the heart of a �160m fraud conspiracy who, with H2O Networks, promised to roll out fibre optic cables across the UK.'It is alleged that legitimate documents were mixed with forgeries in order to make false contracts seem more convincing.'SEE STORY CENTRAL NEWS
Pic shows Stephen Dartnell'Councils looking to become 'fibre optic cities' were left in the dark about the business dealings of companies offering to provide the service, a court heard.'Warrington-based Total Asset Finance Ltd (TAF) which collapsed in 2011 was said to be at the heart of a �160m fraud conspiracy who, with H2O Networks, promised to roll out fibre optic cables across the UK.'It is alleged that legitimate documents were mixed with forgeries in order to make false contracts seem more convincing.'SEE STORY CENTRAL NEWS

A West Norfolk businessman has been jailed for 15 years for his part in a broadband contract scam that conned banks out of £160 million.

Stephen Dartnell, 60, of Bailey Street, Castle Acre, was also banned from being a company director for 12 years, when he was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on Friday.

Last week, a jury found him guilty on two charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and one count of conspiring to give corrupt payments, following a trial that lasted more than five months.

Three other men were jailed for 12, 10 and seven years respectively, after they were also found guilty of offences relating to the conspiracy. Two further defendants were cleared.

Passing sentence, Judge Michael Gledhill QC told Dartnell his behaviour had been motivated by “sheer greed.”

He said: “On any view, you are the principal offender in this case. But for you, these frauds would not have taken place.”

The case centred 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.

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.

Although the Serious Fraud Office first accepted the case in October 2010, the defendants did not appear in court until January 2015. Their trial began last September.

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.

Judge Gledhill said there was little that could be said in mitigation for Dartnell, despite his previous good character.

He told him: “You have had a very successful career in the field of asset finance, building up a profitable and respectable business.

“When you came across H20 and learned of the concept, you saw the prospect of huge rewards.

“So confident that you would make millions, you were prepared to commit fraud, believing that your dishonesty would never be found out.

“Good character counts for very little in such a serious case. Indeed, I am of the view that your reputation was a factor in the success of the fraud.”

Dartnell was given consecutive prison terms of 10 and five years on the fraud charges, plus a further six year sentence, to run concurrently, on the corrupt payments count.

He was told he would serve half that term before being released on licence.