A 64-year-old company director has been jailed for seven and half years at Bristol Crown Court for masterminding an elaborate £7m investment fraud.
Adrian Eyre, of Stensons Field, Derby, set up a renewable fuels company called Oxford Renewable Fuel Limited in June 2013.
He claimed to investors that the company was a market leader in the field of renewable energy, had developed a bioreactor producing commercial quantities of biogas, that he had put £1.5 m of his own money into the project and had successfully tested his technology by fuelling a jet engine.
Investors were told that a consultancy team of 40 scientists were supporting the project.
A company brochure was produced, which claimed that the company was engaged in a final push to raise a further £2m and would then seek a public listing or trade sale.
A total of 339 investors across the country were given a copy of the brochure in which these claims were made and a total of nearly £7m was raised in investment.
But at the end of a complex three-year investigation by detectives from Avon and Somerset Police’s Complex Crime Unit – and a 10-week trial – the trial at Bristol Crown Court heard that Adrian Eyre had lied to potential investors as the claims to investors, was untrue.
Some of the victims were vulnerable pensioners who had invested in the project. One investor – who has since died – had been deceived into parting with £500,000.
Soon after the company started raising money, Eyre began selling his own shares to investors without informing them. As a result he was able to pocket considerable sums from the share sale to spend as he pleased. He transferred more than £900,000 from the company to his own personal accounts.
The court heard during the trial that some investors’ money was spent on items, including a red £136,000 Mercedes Gullwing sports car. Significant amounts were withdrawn in cash at cashpoints scattered across London.
Eyre had been arrested in Derby in November 2015. The court heard that he had a background in electrical and mechanical engineering. He came up with the idea of using microbiological organisms to produce methane gas. He first came across the idea when working in the Middle East.
He was the director of the company, which he claimed had a unique technology to create methane from the use of methanogens – organisms found underground and in swamps. He was the “front man” who delivered presentations on the renewable energy business.
He said he had put in £1.5m of his own money into the project and needed to raise a further £2m from investors to scale up the operation and build a large bioreactor.
Officers in the Avon and Somerset Police’s Complex Crime Unit became suspicious when a vigilant member of bank staff who was concerned about one of their customers who lived in the Bath area.
This customer was 85-years-old and suffering from dementia but was attempting to transfer hundreds of thousands of pounds to a company called Oxford Renewable Fuels.
It was at this point we started looking in to the company.
Today (5 November) at Bristol Crown Court, Eyre received a confiscation order for £1.9m, to be paid within three months. Failure to pay the order by the agreed date could result in a further detention in custody.
The investigation identified 339 victims, who will receive compensation from the confiscation order paid.
Robert Fucilla, aged 42, from Barnet, who was also arrested as part of the police investigation on suspicion of fraud and money-laundering, was acquitted of the charges by the jury.
DS Marc Milliner of Avon and Somerset Police’s Complex Crime Unit said: “This was a complex 36-month investigation, which gradually exposed a fraud amounting to around £7m.
“The jailing today of Adrian Eyre sends a strong message that crime does not pay and should reassure the public that we will always endeavour to bring fraudsters to justice.
“Adrian Eyre preyed on innocent and vulnerable investors, who took the claims and comments he made at face value and believed they were supporting a successful and ground-breaking environmentally-friendly approach to producing energy. Eyre tried to hide behind glossy brochures, produced to encourage victims to part with their hard-earned cash.
“If there is a lesson to be learned from this case, it is that if an easy money-making opportunity seems too good to be true, it is probably a scam. Never feel rushed or pressurised into making a decision.
“Those considering investing their income and savings need to ensure they have thoroughly checked both the project they are investing in and those behind it. In some of these cases, five minutes of internet research could have saved investors their life savings. Consult independent advisors who are members of the Financial Conduct Authority and are fully regulated. Ensure background checks are carried out on the company directors.
“I’d like to thank my team for their professional and conscientious approach to what was a complex investigation. It was their meticulous attention to detail, which helped expose Eyre for what he was – a professional fraudster.
“The confiscation order against Eyre means that 340 victims will be eligible to receive some compensation when they thought their investment had been completely lost. Eyre has lost three cars – a Mercedes, Aston Martin and a Smart car and still has to pay the order or risk a further detention in prison,” said DS Milliner.
Judge William Hart praised the work of Avon and Somerset Police’s “successful prosecution” highlighting the work of DC Adele Shallcross of the force’s Complex Crime Unit.
“DC Shallcross has conducted this inquiry with the highest standards of skill and professionalism
“I would say that her conduct is worthy of an officer of much higher rank but I am not sure that an officer of any rank could have done better what she has done.
“She has acted not only as investigator but effectively as the prosecution’s accountancy expert and no qualified accountant could have done more or expressed it better.
“She has been, in effect, a one person team for much of this case, which is quite extraordinary when one considers the size and complexity of this case.
“Without her efforts, it is highly likely that the losers would not get back anything – they now at least stand the chance of almost £2 million being distributed amongst them.
“I therefore commend DC Shallcross in the highest terms – she is a credit to the force she represents and to the office she holds.”