Too Posh To Pay

by Lisa McGarry

“The cost of borrowing, all these pressures coming in is going to squeeze their lifestyle and I think you will see more people who are in positions of trust letting that moral wall down. You’ll see the kinds of crimes that they (the middle classes) perceive to be victimless.”

Roy Ramm – Former Met Police Commander

The British middle classes traditionally promote an image of honesty coupled with a veneer of white collar respectability. However times have changed and a new survey conducted for Too Posh To Pay reveals how the modern day middle classes are now more dishonest than other social groups. Ripping off employers, stealing from customers, buying stolen goods, fiddling the insurance and breaking into homes are all examples of crimes carried out to fund their aspirational lifestyles, whatever the state of the economy and whether they can afford to pay or not.

The programme’s survey indicates that this worrying trend shows no sign of coming to an end and, despite the culprits’ belief their crimes are victimless, they risk affecting everyone in Britain. Judgement day has arrived for the law breaking middle classes as Too Posh to Pay looks into the fascinating cases of some of the white collar criminals who got caught red handed.

The documentary investigates what the modern middle classes are really getting up to. An exclusive survey of over 3000 people, exposes the true extent of the problem and reveals that this new criminal class are more likely to steal from the taxman, rip off the local council, buy stolen goods or fiddle insurance. The programme also features those who think nothing of employing illegal schemes to maintain the ambitious standards they have set for their lifestyles or inject some excitement into their lives.

Jane Agate grew up in Arundel in West Sussex, an historic town famed for its antiques. When Jane was a 36-year-old housewife she discovered a lucrative yet illegal new talent – as a cat burglar. Her expertise in antiques led her to steal jewellery, china, silverware and antique furniture from local homes around the town.

“I did feel I was living a double life,” says Jane. “It was like having two distinct personalities. By day I was their [her young children] mummy, and by night I was taken over by, well it sounds dramatic to say a dark force doesn’t it but that’s what it feels like now.”

She began committing burglaries after forging a friendship with a local woman who had also burgled people’s homes in the past. Jane soon followed in her new friend’s footsteps and got a rush from it. Before too long she was selling the stolen antiques in the north of England.

“I felt guilty for finding it exciting,” says Jane. “I knew that it was wrong and I didn’t want to find it exciting but the plain truth was that it was exciting.”

It became easier and easier for the two ladies to carry on their crime wave. Covering their tracks with shoes larger than their feet to leave incorrect footprints, Jane’s confidence soon became complacency and she was caught during one of her burglaries and sentenced to six years in Holloway prison.

“I was petrified. It was the worst moment in my entire life,” says Jane. “For all the excitement and the money it gave me it was the biggest regret of my life. I’m so sorry to everyone, I really am.”

Graham Price from Gowerton in South Wales managed a local agency of the Halifax. His customers trusted him, but he abused their trust by persuading them to deposit their hard earned money in bogus investment schemes which he used to fund his love of gambling on the horses. He spent £1.7 million on racing tipsters, had an account with one bookmaker with credit of £50,000, and indulged his love of expensive cars.

Eventually he began stealing from the company safe, and sustained his fraud over three years. His massive theft was finally exposed by an internal audit – in the safe one of the auditors found an I.O.U. note that read ‘I, Graham Price, borrowed £7 million from the Halifax’. He was jailed for 12 years.

Financial skills aren’t the only talent the middle classes use to break the law. Ex-public school boy John Myatt committed forgery on a more creative scale – as an artist he painted copies of original works by famous painters and sold them as genuine originals. What began as an innocent £200 commission for a buyer led to a business creating fake paintings, after the buyer had the painting valued at around £25,000.

John says: “He offered me half of what he could get for it, and I think if that had been a one off that would have been that, but in fact it led to a relationship that went on far too long.”

John went on to paint over 200 works and the forgeries netted the pair over £1 million. He says: “It was unreal, I think. It was a bit like watching a spaceship land on the lawn and take off again and going down the pub and saying, ‘You’ll never guess what just happened.’ It was silly. It was unreal getting paid for it, because the quality of what I was doing frankly it wasn’t good.”

John thought he’d got away with his crime when he decided to give up his forgery, but the police caught up with him and he was sentenced to one year in prison. Six years after his release the same skills that got him into trouble have made him a success, as he now is a commercially successful artist selling legitimate paintings he openly declares as fakes, some of which fetch tens of thousands of pounds.

A private education, privileged upbringing and a family listing in DeBretts didn’t stop Fiona Mont becoming Britain’s most wanted woman in 2000. She was accused of being part of a huge fraud involving computer equipment to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

After she was questioned and released on bail pending formal charges, she went on the run joined by her lover, Graham Hesketh – a convicted drug smuggler – and they escaped to Europe. The couple kept video diaries as they travelled around Europe, which are shown in the programme, and were always one step ahead of the police, generating masses of media coverage in the UK.

But eventually British police caught up with them, and Fiona was arrested in Spain. Speaking for the first time since her arrest, Fiona tells the programme exclusively about her time on the run, “Lots of people along the way have said, ‘What was it like to be a fugitive?’ It was fantastic. It was brilliant, absolutely brilliant to be free of them.”

Fiona spent 40 days in jail and then completely by surprise she was released. It is still unclear why, and Fiona still claims she was innocent and has never faced charges from British police.

Other case studies featured in the programme include a Scotland Yard accountant who stole £5 million from his employer to fund a lavish lifestyle in Scotland; a female employee for a family business who wrote over 200 company cheques to herself to indulge her love of designer clothes; and a furniture salesman who trusted his accountant to manage his takings when he was actually spending them on a rather more sordid vice – a naked cleaner who he spent over £200,000 on.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009, 9:00PM – 10:00PM ITV