A FORMER soldier fleeced lovelorn women of thousands of pounds after befriending them via a dating website.

Raymond James McDonald preyed on the women’s emotional vulnerability, persuading them to part with money for various ruses, including holidays which never took place.

He left two of the women thinking they were to marry him.

Forty-year-old McDonald, whose 44 previous offences include convictions for similar cases of deception, was today (Tuesday March 11) jailed for two years.

Durham Crown Court heard he came into contact with his four latest victims via the dating and singles’ site Plenty of Fish, using a profile Please Be Normal 1973.

Joanne Kidd, prosecuting, said two of the women were under the impression they were to marry McDonald, or Mark Swift as he told them he was called, and one gave him £2,000 towards the reception at a hotel, which it emerged was never booked.

Miss Kidd said he explained away his many absences by concocting a story about visiting his six-year-old daughter who he claimed was being treated for leukemia at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.

On the eve of a supposedly long-booked holiday to Cyprus with one of the women and her daughter, he told her he had to cancel at the eleventh hour as his own daughter had become seriously ill and was in an induced coma in hospital.

Miss Kidd told the court the women, “clearly believed his web of deceit”.

But his activities came to light when one victim contacted another and discovered both had been duped by the same man each met via the dating site.

He was arrested while using the car of one of his victims, and, despite initial denials, went on to make full admissions in subsequent police interviews.

McDonald, formerly of Laburnum Crescent, Trimdon Station, and of Blackhills Terrace, Horden, admitted four charges of fraud by false representation, between July and November last year.

The court heard as a result of his arrest he was re-called to serve the remainder of a four-year sentence imposed for similar offences in 2011.

Jane Waugh, mitigating, said: “These matters are unpleasant. It’s back-to-back offending, but he was released from his previous sentence with nothing in his pocket.

“He was not rehabilitated and, not surprisingly, he did the same thing again.

“But that’s how he survived, with nowhere to live, other than in cars he borrowed.”

Jailing him, Judge Robert Adams told McDonald: “This was confidence fraud, deliberately targeting vulnerable victims, particularly looking at the circumstances some found themselves in.

“It was callous disregard for these women, mirroring the previous offences, leaving some in deep financial difficulty.”

Judge Adams ordered that £320 seized from McDonald on arrest should go to the victim who lost most through his activities, £5,210.