Cornwall

Peter Benstead: Crown Currency boss killed himself

Peter Benstead
Image caption Peter Benstead had not appeared in the dock at various times during the trial due to health issues

The boss of a currency trading company killed himself while on trial with members of his family for a £20m fraud.

Jurors at London's Southwark Crown Court were told of the death of Cornwall-based Crown Currency boss Peter Benstead as they returned their verdicts on the other defendants.

The judge asked jurors not to return verdicts on the 10 counts of which Mr Benstead had been accused.

His widow Susan Benstead was found guilty of money laundering.

On Wednesday verdicts on some of the charges against her and four employees of the firm were delivered.

The court heard 12,500 customers were left out of pocket to the tune of nearly £20m when the firm went under in October 2010.

Verdicts delivered:

  • No verdict was returned against company director, Peter Benstead, 72, of Penzance, who denied four counts of theft, three of fraudulent trading, two of false accounting and one of converting criminal property.
  • Director, Edward James, 75, former mayor of Glastonbury, Somerset, was found guilty of two counts of fraudulent trading relating to the days leading up to the collapse, but not guilty of two counts of false accounting.
  • Former accountant Stephen Matthews, 52, of St Newlyn East, Cornwall was convicted of two counts of false accounting, but cleared of two counts of fraudulent trading.
  • Roderick Schmidt, 46, of Penzance, Mr Benstead's son-in-law and the firm's day-to-day manager was convicted of two counts of fraudulent trading and one of theft, one count of false accounting but cleared of a further two.
  • Peter Benstead's son, Julian Benstead, 46, of Penzance, ran Crown's sister company that specialised in trading cash for gold and was convicted of one count of fraudulent trading, but cleared of the theft of 25lb (11.3kg) of gold
  • Peter Benstead's wife, Susan Benstead, 70, of Penzance was found guilty of two counts of money laundering, one which related to the use of nearly £900,000 of customers' money to buy a luxury home in Cornwall.

Prosecutor Peter Grieves-Smith said Crown offered customers fiercely competitive offers on foreign currency, but ran into serious financial problems and used new clients' investments to settle existing debts.

The court heard the ailing firm was still accepting payment from customers, even when some staff knew the firm was insolvent, with little chance of clients getting their money back.

Peter Benstead, 72, was found dead in a vehicle near his home in Cornwall on Sunday afternoon, hours after being reported missing.

There was a ban on reporting his apparent suicide until after the final verdicts were returned.

At the end of the trial Judge Michael Gledhill told the jury of Mr Benstead's death in private. Afterwards he said "one or two were quite deeply affected" by the news.

Devon and Cornwall Police said the case was the largest fraud investigation the force had been involved in with "detailed examination" of more than 1,500 documents, 3,000 exhibits, 370 bank accounts and 80 computers, with inquiries spread across the UK, France and Bulgaria.

The defendants are due to be sentenced on 12 June.

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