Fraud pair face jail after stripping Hartlepool United of gate receipts

Stephen Murrall and Peter Harris have been convicted of fraud over their supposed takeover of Hartlepool United.
Stephen Murrall and Peter Harris have been convicted of fraud over their supposed takeover of Hartlepool United.

A businessman and a builder who stripped the gate receipts from struggling Hartlepool United's home games before defrauding a business contact to replace it are facing jail terms.

Stephen Murrall and Peter Harris were trying to convince the Football League they were ‘fit and proper persons’ to take over the League Two club, at the time of their fraudulent activity.

It was one of a series of frauds Murrall had carried out, two of which also involved Harris, Warwick Crown Court heard.

Murrall, 49, from Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire, denied five charges of fraud, while Harris, 47, also of Shipston-on-Stour, had denied three of the charges.

But after almost 19 hours' deliberation at the end of a five-week trial, the jury convicted Murrall on all five charges, one of them by a majority verdict, and Harris of two of the charges.

Judge Sylvia de Bertodano adjourned the case for them to be sentenced with co-defendant Henry Kerr, 61, who lives in Wien, Germany, and has admitted the charges he faces.

Murrall and Harris were both granted bail until that hearing, which is due to take place in early November, with conditions of residence at their home addresses and that they surrender their passports and do not apply for travel documents.

Simon Hunka, for Murrall, said: “He will be under no illusions. He knows exactly what will happen.”

Judge de Bertodano told Harris’s barrister: “I don’t want him to take away any idea that it won’t be a custodial sentence. That will be the overwhelming probability.”

Prosecutor Miranda Moore QC said that in 2014, in a bid to take over Hartlepool United, then struggling in League Two, the two men set up a company called TMH 2014 Ltd, referencing the supporters’ nickname of The Monkey Hangers.

After agreeing to take over the club, which has since dropped into the National League, for a nominal £5, they had to show the League they were fit and proper persons to run the club.

But they immediately instructed Hartlepool’s finance officer that all future income from home matches, including gate receipts and bar revenue, should go into TMH’s bank account.

A total of £42,453 from the next two home games was paid into the TMH account, but did not stay there, and the League made inquiries, wanting to know the two men were good for the money.

They had to repay the club, but didn’t have the money, so in January 2015 persuaded Jonathan Rehbein of the ESRG Group to loan them £50,000 over seven days at 20% interest.

It was never repaid, and Mr Rehbein, ‘who had still not realised his £500,000 had gone west’ from one of Murrall’s earlier scams over a non-existent venture in Malta, was fobbed off with a succession of excuses.

Miss Moore said Murrall was "a gambler in the true sense, spending tens of thousands of pounds, if not hundreds of thousands, betting online and losing online".

“He’s organised several fraudulent schemes in an attempt to obtain money. Sometimes he succeeded, and sometimes he didn’t.

“Mr Harris is a friend of Mr Murrell, and is a builder by trade, with no real experience of finance or running a company of any note.

"He’s the clean name on company documents, put forward as the figurehead of the companies by Mr Murrall.”

The frauds came to light after Murrall was made bankrupt in 2015 and had to hand over computer equipment, on which evidence was found which triggered an investigation.

Murrall denied acting dishonestly when he got the Hartlepool gate receipts diverted, saying he believed he would be able to pay back the £50,000 loan.

Harris said although he was to be the 'front man’, he "believed we were going to make a real go of it", and claimed they had the gate receipts paid into the TMH account because there was "petty theft throughout the club".