Accountant who stole £2.3m including church funds is jailed

| March 16, 2010

David Atkinson, 59, conned investors after he set himself up as an independant financial advisor despite having a history of theft.

More than 70 people put their trust and life savings in his investment schemes after he promised them profitable returns that turned out to be false.

Atkinson, a father-of-two, even stole £200,000 from his own church where he acted as a treasurer, and pocketed the money to spend online in "fanciful" betting scams.

By the time police caught up with Atkinson, who had previous convictions for stealing from his former employer, he had frittered away £1.5m.

Atkinson, of Heywood near Rochdale, Greater Manchester pleaded guilty to 15 counts of theft and asked for 58 similar offences to be taken into consideration at Bolton Crown Court.

Sentencing William Morris, the Recorder of Bolton, said: "You were liked and trusted by your victims. You went on to betray that trust. There was no investment scheme. It was a betting fund. But of course your victims didn't know that.

"You gave investment updates – false in their total and false in their promise of secure and profitable investments. Their lives have been devastated. Life savings have been lost. Victims with serious illnesses forced to turn to state benefits.

"Their hopes were utterly dashed. So many of the statments I have read can be described as heart rending.

"As for stealing money from the church it is an example of the cynicism, calculation and exploitation of trust by which you have defrauded all of your victims."

The court heard he was a "part qualified accountant" which had enabled him to work in the financial services sector since 1985.

Since then he aquired a "degree of knowhow" in financial matters and set up as a local accountant helping small businesses with their tax returns.

He ran Heywood accountancy firm PBAIS and details of Atkinson's services spread by word of mouth as people recommended him to their friends and family as a man of "charisma" who was amiable and trustworthy.

But Atkinson abused their trust by pocketing their savings while promising them an "unconditional guarantee" that their money was safe and would be invested for them.

Ian Lee, prosecuting, said: "The crown say the total theft approches £2.3 million and agree the net loss to be a little over £1.5 million.

"He was without doubt trusted by each and every one of the victims. He brought to his work a degree of charisma such that these victims became friends.

"At the same time he was employed as a treasurer to the Spotland Methodist church. He was a signatory on the church's accounts. Over a period of two years he was able steal over £200,000 from church funds.

"All of the other offences were committed in a similar way. On the promise of generous returns he persuaded each of the victims to invest in a scheme but no such scheme ever existed. the schemes varied but included property investments in the North East."

Mr Lee said Atkinson, who has now been declared bankrupt, also duped clients into what he called "tax loopholes" getting them to hand over money so as to avoid paying tax on sums of money.

The court heard that when one client, Karen Wood, told Atkinson her husband had been diagnosed with cancer in 2007 he encouraged her to make further investments which have left them having to rely on state benefits for the first time in their lives.

Another man, James Star, invested his life savings with Atkinson and when his wife had three heart attacks within 12 months he told Atkinson that he wanted to take some money out of the scheme.

But Atkinson showed him "projections" of what he would make, persuading him to leaving his money where it was.

The court heard that back in 1971 he was charged with theft and four counts of obtaining property by deception when he stole £600 from his employee at a betting shop.

Benjamin Lawrence, defending, said that Atkinson was "genuinely remorseful" and had intended to return the money but was a "pathological gambler".

He went on: "In October 2008 he made an attempt to take his own life by taking tablets and drinking bottles of wine. He has written letters to all of the victims in this case expressing his deep regret."

Ken Williams, 55, and his wife Lynda, 56, had their entire life savings taken by Atkinson and will now have to re-mortgage their house and will be forced to work until they are 65.

"I don't believe he is remorseful at all," said Mr Williams. "We lost over £33,000 in total. And what's worse is we recommended him to my sister in law and now she has lost £15,000."

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Category: Church Security

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