Skegness boss conned staff out of thousands

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A BANKRUPT who left a trail of misery after conning his Skegness workforce out of thousands of pounds has been jailed for four years at Lincoln Crown Court.

Peter Leadbeater persuaded his employees to invest in his failing businesses claiming they were viable at a time when he was unable to even meet his wage bill.

When his Art of Smart and Socrates International businesses collapsed some of his staff were left both out of a job and financially ruined.

Leadbeater went on to borrow more than £50,000 from a retired vicar Rev Frederick Hullett after gaining the confidence of his victim and then claiming he was in line to receive the proceeds from the sale of a house.

Leadbeater, 50, of Friars Lane, Lincoln, admitted 25 charges of fraud, two charges of operating as a company director while an undischarged bankrupt and a further charge of using a false instrument with intent. The offences occurred between October 2007 and December 2010.

His 16 victims lost almost £200,000 between them.

Leadbeater’s own PA, Gemma Whelan, 28, invested almost £10,000 and subsequently lost her home and her car when the business went under.

Speaking after he was sentenced she said “He left me ruined. My health has suffered and I lost my car and my house. I’ve literally got nothing left and I’m so much in debt.”

Ms Whelan, a former member of the Skegness lifeboat crew, worked for Leadbeater at Art of Smart’s offices within the Skegness Business Centre.

She added “When I started I thought I’d got a really good job but I only got paid for about three months and then everything went wrong.

“He’s a complete conman. He’s only got a fraction of what he deserves. He’s a very unpleasant man.”

Sentencing Leadbeater earlier Judge Michael Heath told him: “You were more than an inept businessman. You were dishonest.

“People trusted you and those people could ill afford to lose what they lost.

“It is no exaggeration to say that you have left a trail of misery, both financial and emotional, behind you.

“There was a catalogue of persistent, blatant dishonesty.”

The Judge ruled that Leadbeater had benefited from crime by £193,893 and ordered that his available assets of just £9 be confiscated.

Mark Watson, prosecuting, said Leadbeater had twice previously been made bankrupt and was still undischarged when he set up in business running two companies.

Skegness-based Art of Smart Ltd began trading in May 2007 and provided training and educational services including private tuition.

Lincoln-based Socrates International, which published a magazine for Age Concern Lindsey, began operating early the following year..

Mr Watson said “Although viable [concepts] the operation of the businesses was inept.”

Within seven months Art of Smart had an £8,000 overdraft and despite cash injections of £20,000 the overdraft had increased to £22,000 just six weeks later.

Employees were persuaded to buy shares in the companies but at the same time were being paid by cheques which bounced. Suppliers, including printing companies, were also left out of pocket when payment cheques were not honoured.

One vulnerable worker handed over £13,500 as an investment and another gave Leadbeater £5,600. A third worker borrowed £20,000 after being told it was needed to save Art of Smart having already invested £10,000 of his own cash.

Ian Bridges, defending, said Leadbeater did not set out to deceive people but had intended to establish viable businesses.

“He is very, very sorry for what he has done and wishes to apologise. He also has lost everything he had.

“He finds himself living in a small rented flat with no assets whatsoever. In reality nobody has gained significantly out of what happened.”