Page last updated at 17:06 GMT, Thursday, 4 March 2010

Members of fake golf club gang jailed

Counterfeit golf clubs
The defendants sold millions of pounds worth of the clubs

Three people have been jailed for their part in a "truly global" multi-million pound fake golf clubs fraud.

The gang sold golf clubs they falsely claimed were made by numerous well-known manufacturers.

Auction website eBay told Snaresbrook Crown Court heard it was the largest counterfeiting scheme it had seen.

Mastermind Gary Bellchambers, 45, of Rainham, east London, was jailed for four years and three months. Two others were jailed for 16 and 12 months.

Three people were given suspended jail terms.

The court heard counterfeit clubs were made in China before being distributed throughout the world by the gang.

They sold tens of thousands of items, with more than $3m (£2m) paid into their PayPal accounts.

But the scheme unravelled after pensioner Christine Manz complained about two fake Acushnet golf clubs she bought on eBay.

When a golfer purchases clubs bearing a brand name or trade mark, they are paying for years of research
Judge Jacqueline Beech

If a purchaser complained, the gang would usually offer a refund straight away to avoid attracting attention.

But when Ms Manz complained, Bellchambers was in Thailand so did not receive the letters.

Havering Council in east London began investigating and eventually brought a prosecution.

Judge Jacqueline Beech said: "When a golfer purchases clubs bearing a brand name, they are paying for years of research and development and a golf club that represents the cutting edge of technology.

"The expectation is that the clubs will help them improve their game or certainly not make it worse."

'Serious problem'

She continued: "The production and sale of counterfeit goods has grown by 10,000% in the last 20 years and trade in such goods accounts for approximately 10% of world trade."

Bellchambers' sister Sharron Williams, 49, of West Wickham, Kent, was handed an eight-month sentence, suspended for 18 months.

Right-hand man Keith Thomas, 50, of Martin Drive, Rainham, was sentenced to 16 months in jail.

Chris Moughton, 56, of Hayfield Avenue, Blackpool, got a 19-week sentence, suspended for 12 months, with a three-month tagged curfew to remain at home overnight.

Gang members Roy and Kay Cottee, of Thorn Lane, Rainham, were also convicted of conspiracy to sell or distribute counterfeit Qantas business class cards.

Roy Cottee, 66, received a 12-month sentence while his wife, 46, got a nine-month suspended sentence.

Helen Wilson, 29, of The Knoll, Hertford, got a six-month sentence suspended for 18 months.

After the sentencing, eBay UK managing director Mark Lewis said: "We are fully committed to identifying and eliminating listings posted by a dishonest few.

"Today's sentencing of Bellchambers and his accomplices serves as a warning to anyone attempting to sell illegal goods on our site that they will not get away with it."

Bill Adams, Havering Council's principal trading standards officer, said: "I've been an investigator for 35 years and never heard of such a massive counterfeiting operation - it was of a scale that has never been seen before."

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