Sweet-talking scammer promised rich returns as he cheated friends, family and his own wife out of £179,000

A sweet-talking con man has tricked his friends and family into investing £179,000 in bogus business ventures and fake insurance schemes.

Robert Watkinson, 61, claimed to be a successful businessman, promising high returns on the investments he sought. With a flat in Southport and a cottage in the Ribble Valley, he flaunted his wealth on the golf course and got into expensive games at the village pub.

But Watkinson was truly a penniless, unskilled gambling addict who was ‘stealing from Peter to pay Paul’, Preston Crown Court told. Between 2015 and 2017, Watkinson presented himself as “a charismatic, personable and successful individual,” said Robert Smith, prosecuting.

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He has boasted of his professional expertise in various fields including taxi insurance, business investment and personal injury litigation. He and his wife Yvonne divided their time between their primary residence in Southport and the cottage in Wiswell, which they used as a weekend retreat.

“Such was the apparent credibility and success of Robert Watkinson, he succeeded in persuading a number of people to invest money, either in commercial ventures or in very lucrative taxi insurance,” said Mr. Smith in court.

But under the facade Watkinson’s business ventures were a sham, the Southport flat was rented and the Wiswell cottage belonged to his wife. Unbeknownst to him, Watkinson forged his signature to secure three loans against his Ribble Valley home, the court heard.

Over two years, the scammer convinced seven people to invest a total of £189,000 in his ‘businesses’, claiming he had a wealthy online investor to repay the loans. A man, who entrusted Watkinson to be best man at his wedding, has been scammed out of £30,000 after releasing equity in his home.

When he asked Watkinson for a copy of the loan agreement, the defendant said he would ask the “office girls” to sort it out. He had no office and no female employees, the court heard.

When investors sued Watkinson for money owed to them, he wrote checks from his business account, registered with Polaris Financial Management, which bounced. Throughout Watkinson’s trading relationship, the account balance remained at zero, Mr Smith added.

In 2017, Watkinson’s lies were exposed when his wife noticed he was working from home and owed money to various people.

Mr Smith said: ‘Yvonne Watkinson never really understood what her husband was doing for a job. She herself had allowed the defendant to borrow much of her savings over the years. In April 2017, the defendant admitted to his wife that a £50,000 loan had been taken out using his cottage as collateral. Yvonne Watkinson was devastated.

“The accused confessed to him that he forged his signature on the legal charge. She then learned that he had arranged two other loan contracts and that the defendant had admitted to having forged his wife’s signature on each of them.

On November 17, 2017, Watkinson was arrested and said he worked as a sole trader at a claims management company, Airmar. He said he recently created Polaris and registered as a director, but the company never traded.

He confessed to using the money to “pay Peter and Paul” and said he needed it to fund his lifestyle with his wife. He admitted to forging his wife’s signature on the loan contracts.

Watkinson, of Dickson Road, Blackpool, pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud, totaling £110,000 and four counts of theft totaling £79,000. He appeared at Preston Crown Court to be sentenced.

Mark Stuart, defending, said Watkinson had paid employment until he was 50, but had been unable to work since through no fault of his own. “He was trying to live a style of life he couldn’t afford and was trying to get by, he said.

Recorder Andrew Nuttall, who handed down the sentence, said: ‘You have committed breathtaking offenses of dishonesty against people who trusted you, including your ex-wife. You actually forged his signature and used his cottage as collateral. You had no authority to use this as a means of security. Your betrayal of her was so severe that she had to call the police herself. She was devastated. There are many victims in this case who have been devastated by your betrayal – and that’s the word: betrayal. They were wicked deceptions and thefts.

He sentenced Watkinson to three years in prison.