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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 May, 2003, 02:28 GMT 03:28 UK
Home Office eyes conman's 33m
John Palmer
Palmer's challenge to his jail term was dismissed
The Home Office has vowed to try to win back money from convicted conman John Palmer after a court blunder allowed him to keep more than 33m from a timeshare fraud.

Britain's most senior judge, Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, said Palmer, who is serving an eight-year sentence, should have had the money confiscated.

But he ruled on Friday that an earlier decision allowing the conman to hold onto his profits - although wrong - could not be overturned.

Following the decision, the Home Office said it would try to reclaim the money by invoking new proceeds of crime laws recently passed by Home Secretary David Blunkett.

We are determined to take the profit out of crime
Home Office spokeswoman

The laws allow police forces and the courts to confiscate illegal profits made by criminals and drug dealers.

Palmer is expected to be one of the first targets for the new Assets Recovery Agency, which began work in February.

"We are examining whether we could use the new proceeds of crime laws, given that its clear from the judgment the money was fraudulently obtained, even though this case predates these tough new laws," a Home Office spokeswoman said.

"We are determined to take the profit out of crime."

'Wrongly decided'

Palmer, who made the money by selling timeshares in Tenerife apartments that often did not exist, was nicknamed "Goldfinger" after being acquitted of handling gold from the 1983 Brinks-Mat robbery.

In July 2002 a 33,243,812 confiscation order made against Palmer was overturned by the appeal court, on the basis that there had been crucial flaws in the procedure followed.

Who said crime doesn't pay? It's never paid so well for Palmer
Norman Brennan
Victims of Crime Trust

On Friday Lord Woolf ruled that the court had "misunderstood and misapplied" the law and Palmer's case had been "wrongly decided".

Appeal judges last November blocked an attempt by the Director of Public Prosecutions to take the case to the House of Lords - the only court with power to quash the ruling.

This means they cannot overturn the decision - so Palmer, who is worth a reputed 270m, will keep the money.

'Two fingers'

Palmer, in his 50s, of Bath, was jailed for eight years at the Old Bailey in May 2001 for conspiracy to defraud, in one of the biggest timeshare frauds ever uncovered.

After his acquittal in the Brinks-Mat case, he moved to Tenerife and set up the timeshare business with his lover Christine Ketley, of Essex, who was also convicted of conspiracy to defraud.

Palmer's challenge to his jail term was dismissed by the Court of Appeal in November last year.

After Friday's ruling, Norman Brennan, a serving police officer and director of the Victims of Crime Trust, said: "A lot of vulnerable people, who worked hard all their lives lost their life savings and at the end of the day his sentence, eight years, was not that long anyway.

"Now Palmer is sticking two fingers up to all of us and the courts are allowing him to do it."

Civil courts

Palmer is currently serving time in Belmarsh Prison in south London, and is the richest category A high security inmate in prison history.

There are still more than 200 claims against Palmer going through the court, according to Peter Wylde, a partner with Irwin Mitchell solicitors.

He said on Friday: "We are still pursuing Palmer through the civil courts.

"Perhaps perversely, today's court ruling improves the chances of claimants getting compensation from the civil courts because there are now more of Palmer's assets available."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"This episode does not mark the end of the story for the hundreds John Palmer swindled"



SEE ALSO:
'Goldfinger' loses appeal
04 Nov 02  |  England
Victims sue timeshare conman
03 Nov 02  |  England
The fraud king of Tenerife
23 Apr 02  |  UK News
'Persecuted' for Brink's-Mat case
23 Apr 02  |  England
Who might be targeted?
24 Feb 03  |  UK


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