Failed Hartlepool United takeover fraudster ordered to hand over almost £50,000

Stephen Murrall.
Stephen Murrall.

A crooked businessman who is serving an eight-year prison term for a series of frauds is to hand over his pension fund – or face more time behind bars.

Stephen Murrall had been jailed in November after a jury at Warwick Crown Court convicted him of five charges of fraud, including one surrounding the takeover of Hartlepool United .

Victoria Park.

Victoria Park.

But a confiscation order under the Proceeds of Crime Act was adjourned at that time for an investigation into his finances and those of co-defendants Peter Harris and Henry Kerr.

At the resumed hearing, prosecutor Suki Dhadda said it was agreed that Murrall, 49, of Mill Court, Shipston-on-Stour, had benefitted to the tune of £674,423 from his crooked activities. But his only available asset was £49,652.48 which was in pension funds.

So Judge Sylvia de Bertodano made a confiscation order in that amount, giving Murrall three months to pay or face another 12 months in jail, after which the money would still have to be paid.

She ordered 86% of the confiscated sum to go to Jonathan Rehbein, of the ESRG Group, who had loaned Murrall £500,000 for a non-existent business venture in Malta and £50,000 in relation to Hartlepool United, with 14% going to another victim.

The Proceeds of Crime Act hearing against Harris, 47, of Compton Court, Watery Lane, Shipston, was adjourned for him to get his legal aid resolved – and that against Kerr, 61, who lives in Wien, Germany, because he had not attended court.

During their trial, the jury heard Murrall and Harris had stripped the gate receipts from struggling Hatlepool’s home games before defrauding Mr Rehbein to replace the money.

Prosecutor Miranda Moore QC had 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 Football League they were ‘fit and proper persons’ to run the club.

But they immediately instructed Hartlepool’s finance officer that all future money from home matches, including gate receipts and the 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 enquiries, 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 they persuaded Mr Rehbein to loan them £50,000.

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, was fobbed off with a succession of excuses.

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.

In July 2014 Murrall had registered Phoebus Banbury Ltd, which was involved in setting up the Phoebus night club in the town and refurbishing the premises, for VAT.

Later that year Murrall asked Kerr to provide a false invoice for £120,000 plus VAT of £24,000 – which was submitted as part of a fraudulent claim for a £51,145 VAT refund.

Also in 2014 Murrall had contacted the ESRG Group, which provides financial structuring for overseas projects, claiming that Phoebus Funding Solutions was involved in large-scale clean energy projects in Malta.

Murrall was the CEO of Phoebus Funding Solutions, and he convinced Mr Rehbein at ESRG that they had a contract signed by Dr Christian Cardona on behalf of the Maltese government.

Mr Rehbein agreed to advance £500,000 after seeing a forged letter from accountancy giants Ernst and Young, supposedly underwriting the project.

Murrall and Harris carried out a fraud to get a factoring company advanced money against bogus invoices for £93,000 said to have been submitted by Phoebus to Avalon Investment Services.

And Murrall also submitted false statements and invoices to HMRC between April 2015 and January 2016, coming ‘within a whisker’ of fraudulently obtaining £854,290 in research and development payable tax credit, Miss Moore added.