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February 7, 2017 - 16:20

A Somerset based advertising salesman, who made a string of false or misleading claims in order to obtain orders from dozens of small business, was last week (27/01/17) sentenced at Bournemouth Crown Court.

Nigel Hallett, 47, of Frome, Somerset pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to two counts of operating a fraudulent business under the Fraud Act 2006.

The offences related to payments made for advertisements in a number of booklets and promotional maps sold across Poole, Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Wimborne between September 2013 and September 2014.

The prosecution explained to the Court that during this period Hallett had targeted smaller, independent businesses and would turn up uninvited selling space in his Little Black Book or Buzz Maps publications. Evidence from 23 of Hallett’s customers was that he made a series of fraudulent claims in order to convince them that he was a legitimate businessman and as a result they handed over payments of up to £600 each, much of it in cash. None of the promised publications were ever produced and no one ever received a refund.

The Court heard that although he knew he was under investigation by Poole Trading Standards and was even on bail at the time, Hallett continued to offend, moving on to target Christchurch and Wimborne businesses. During this time Hallett started using the false name, Nick Statham, to avoid detection.

 Hallett even targeted the Wimborne and Christchurch British Legion clubs, telling staff there that he himself had been in the army but had to leave due to injury. A statement obtained by Poole Trading Standards later showed that Hallett had never been in the army.

The prosecution explained that Hallett frequently changed quoted distribution figures for the publications but suggested that in any event he did not have the money to pay for the relevant print run. At one stage Hallett claimed Job Seekers Allowance at the same time as selling advertising in his booklets and maps. The court was told a common tactic would be to introduce artificially short deadlines to pressurise clients to go ahead with advertising.

 Phone calls and emails to Hallett from his clients later went unanswered as he moved onto other areas, selling advertisements in his next publication, but without publishing the last.

James Norman, Regulatory Team Manager, Borough of Poole, explained: "We urge businesses to do their homework and only place adverts in reputable publications. Business should consider asking to speak to a previous advertiser if they have any doubts and not be put under pressure from any salesperson to make a last minute decision. Hallett was able to charm his customers into believing they were getting a great deal from a likeable character but in reality it was a fraudulent scam."

Councillor John Rampton, Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Environment and Consumer Protection, Borough of Poole, said: "This was a lengthy, complex, and difficult case during which Mr Hallett continued to maintain the façade he was a legitimate businessman. These were very serious matters which impacted on both his clients and other legitimate publishers. This case underlines our commitment to support legitimate businesses in our area. All the businesses targeted by Mr Hallett were small and independently operated without access to large marketing budgets and they could ill afford to lose money this way. We hope this case shows that Poole Council will do what it can to bring to justice anyone who believes scamming businesses is a low risk crime.”

In mitigation Justin Gau, defending, said his client had expressed remorse for his crimes, which stemmed from deteriorating personal circumstances centred around his alcohol and drug addictions. At one point during the period of offending he told the court, his client’s circumstances were such that he was reduced to sleeping on a park bench.

In his summing up Judge Johnson described Hallett as a damaged individual who had undergone a spectacular fall from grace but tried to establish the veneer of a respectable business but instead in fact was peddling lies to the clients of his “shabby business”.