British man accused of fraud found dead in French prison

A British man arrested on suspicion of organised fraud has been found hanged in a French prison.

Guards found John Steele hanging in his cell on Tuesday, four days after he was remanded in custody.

Mr Steele, 38, was believed to be the mastermind of a scheme which fraudulently took more than a million pounds in loans from French banks.

French authorities said Mr Steele was considered to be suicidal, and an investigation has begun into his death.

The BBC's Paris correspondent Christian Fraser said Mr Steele was arrested along with another suspect, and French authorities are searching for British people living in the UK as part of the fraud investigation.

It is alleged Mr Steele, who had lived for some years in Vierzon, south of Paris, bought cheap land in rural communities to sell to British accomplices at 10 times the price.

Authorities believe the buyers supplied false evidence of wealth to get mortgages from French banks - which they had no intention of repaying - then split the money among those involved in the scam.

Seventeen loans are suspected to have been obtained in this way, our correspondent said.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We are aware of the death of a British national in France on 21 May and we stand ready to provide consular assistance."