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Serial “Phoenix” fraudster jailed for over 9 years after 15 years on the run

18 September, 2019 | Case Updates

Christopher Woodhead’s decade and a half on the run has ended, following an enforcement hearing at Leeds Magistrates’ Court today.

In 2004, Woodhead was sentenced to 6 years and 4 months in prison, following a joint prosecution by the Serious Fraud Office and West Yorkshire Police. Today he was handed down an additional 3 years default sentence in relation to the unpaid confiscation order of £428,000. With interest, the amount now owing is £900,000.

Between 1997 and 1999, Woodhead ran a series of chemical paint companies that targeted residential properties across Yorkshire. He systematically milked cash from each of them for his personal benefit.

Using fictitious invoices, loans and direct cash transfers to move money between his companies, he illicitly withdrew nearly £450,000, spending it on gambling debts, holiday travel, his ex-wife’s maintenance payments, personal expenses, property and cars.

Lisa Osofsky, Director of the Serious Fraud Office, said:

“This man’s brazen decade and a half on the run is finally at an end and I am pleased to see him behind bars and serving a sentence for his crimes.

“This case should send a clear message that we will always persist in our pursuit of justice.”

Officer in the case, Detective Constable Neil Bottomley, of West Yorkshire Police, said:

“Woodhead defrauded innocent people out of hundreds-of-thousands of pounds, and his total lack of remorse was evident when he didn’t face his victims or the courts and instead went on the run.

“Fifteen years later, he now faces a lengthy prison sentence and a £900,000 fine. His sentence shows time is no barrier to prosecution and we will pursue you until we get justice for the victims involved.”

Dissatisfied customers originally brought Woodhead’s actions to the attention of West Yorkshire Police and the local press with allegations he had been overcharging, with customer bills running into the thousands of pounds for little actual work.

Woodhead had attempted to avoid scrutiny and carry on his scams by creating a series of “phoenix” companies, transferring assets from one company to the new one whilst making the old company insolvent, leaving it with only debts.

The SFO charged Woodhead with 13 offences under the Theft Act 1968 in 2002, but Woodhead absconded from justice the day before his trial was due to start.

Notes to Editors

  1. Christopher Woodhead (66) was arrested in Madrid, Spain on 21 May 2019. It is believed he had been residing in Marbella.
  2. An extradition hearing granting transfer to the UK was held in May 2019.
  3. The SFO and West Yorkshire Police began investigating Christopher Woodhead in May 2000.
  4. Christopher Woodhead was charged with 13 offences under Section 1(1) Theft Act 1968 in August 2002 and was released on unconditional bail. He absconded from justice the day before his trial on 15 June 2004, with an arrest warrant issued shortly after.
  5. His Honour Justice Shaun Spencer QC granted a trial in absentia and on 27 July 2004, Christopher Woodhead was found guilty on 12 counts and sentenced to 6 years and disqualified as a company director for 12 years.
  6. In December 2017, a default sentence of 3 years was activated for failure to pay a confiscation order, to be served consecutively to his 6 year sentence. This was confirmed at Leeds Magistrates’ Court on 18th September 2019.
  7. In August 2019, Woodhead was also sentenced to a further 4 months imprisonment for failing to surrender to court in 2004.
  8. Today, Woodhead has served approx. 14 weeks of his sentence.
  9. The companies involved included:
    1. Midland Coating Company Ltd
    2. Weather Protection Company Ltd
    3. Seal Point Ltd
  10. More information on the case can be found here.
  11. By recovering the Proceeds of Crime and securing fines from companies, the SFO has delivered a net financial impact of +£450m from 2015 to 2019 (SFO Annual Report 2018/19).