Jail warning for Darlington market trader found guilty of fraud

Darlington and Stockton Times: JAIL WARNING: Stuart Bell JAIL WARNING: Stuart Bell

A MARKET trader who plundered £133,765 from a credit card scam and then withdrew more than £37,000 in cash over a six week period to pay for house renovations and a diamond encrusted watch has been warned to expect a substantial prison sentence.

Stuart Bell had denied 11 counts of fraud by false representation and claimed another man who had taken over his stall was in fact responsible for his crimes.

But the jury in his trial at Teesside Crown Court did not believe his story, taking less than two hours to return unanimous guilty verdicts in the case.

The Crown had also described his explanation - involving a mystery man who police never traced - as “nonsense”.

Bell, 42, who ran a mobile phone repair business in both Darlington's covered market, on West Row, and the town's regular outdoor market, made refunds to various credit card accounts belonging to him.

The refunds – 52 in total between December 17 2008 and January 31 the following year – arose out of a dishonest desire of Bell to make a gain from himself and others, prosecutor David Crook said, and did not correspond with any legitimate sales.

Bell, of Brudenell Way, Darlington, also transferred money into his sister's account and had his son give evidence in a bid to explain away cash machine withdrawals from a hospital that occurred while his son was receiving medical treatment.

The cash has yet to be recovered with Dublin-based Elavon Merchant Services, which supplied the chip and pin machine used in the fraud, footing the bill.

Judge Peter Bowers told Bell the sentence on him would be substantial, although no date for the hearing was fixed.

He told him: “I will get a pre-sentence report on you and I will deal with you as soon as I can.”

Matthew Harding, for Bell, suggested his client could be given bail given the age of the offences and the fact he had been on bail throughout his trial.

But Judge Bowers declined to bail the defendant and instead remanded him in custody.

Detective Constable Dave Ripley, of Darlington CID, said: “This was a well planned and executed fraud.

“It was quite a lengthy investigation and justice has been done.”

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