Champagne conman jailed

12:20pm Saturday 6th December 2008

A “Champagne Charlie” conman who spent years swindling businesses with offers of discount bubbly found himself back in jail after telling victims “you should have known better.”

John Clugston, 62, was described as an “incorrigible rogue” by Old Bailey judge Timothy Pontius, who locked him up in 2003 for similar crimes.

Clugston would offer surplus cases of Bollinger and Cristal at knockdown prices but take the money, leaving his victims with nothing.

The grandfather-of-eight, who first appeared before magistrates at the age of 14, admitted his offences but claimed those he conned should have known better.

However the judge, jailing him for four years yesterday, told him: “Everybody is likely to have an eye for a bargain. That doesn’t mean to say they are victims of their own greed.”

Gambling addict Clugston, of Upton Avenue, Southwick, is believed to have stolen more than £50,000 over the years using the same method.

He was previously jailed at Blackfriars Crown Court in 2003 for six years, although the sentence was reduced to four years on appeal.

Clugston was given the chance to “go straight” by another judge at Blackfriars last year and steered clear of offending for a time after receiving help for his gambling problem, but then wasted the “golden opportunity”, the court heard yesterday.

Judge Pontius said: “You are plainly an incorrigible rogue.”

Clugston admitted fraud at an earlier hearing, and asked for three similar offences to be taken into account.

The court heard that in his latest con he swindled £2,200 from Kathleen Morrell, manager of a bar at a business centre in the City of London.

Posing as the director of an estate agents next door, he offered to sell her Bollinger at £100 a case and Cristal at £300. She initially rejected the offer but he persisted and persuaded her to go to the bank to withdraw the cash, said Thomas Halpin, prosecuting.

On the way back to her offices he took her into a pub and she went to the toilet while he went upstairs to see the person he claimed had the champagne. “She came out of the toilet and she realised the defendant wasn’t there”, Mr Halpin said.

Clugston was caught after CCTV in the pub was reviewed.

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