A “TALENTED” forger who made £70,000 in the bedroom of his village terraced house was beginning a seven-year jail sentence last night.
Bachelor John Bennett, 52, ran his counterfeiting cottage industry from his modest home in Institute Street, Oakenshaw, near Crook, County Durham.
Judge Peter Armstrong, sitting at Durham Crown Court, ordered his scanning machines and photocopiers to be destroyed after hearing the fraudster carried on forging after serving four years for similar offences in 2002.
Bennett used his bent notes for a Christmas shopping spree of perfume and toys from Fenwick in Newcastle in December 2001. And he was arrested in July last year after fake notes were found in local shops.
But despite being bailed and arrested twice more, the forger carried on printing dodgy money.
His original laser printer was so large he had to take a door off its frame to get it into his small house. It was taken away by police, but he bought smaller replacement machines.
He faked £20 Bank of England, Bank of Scotland and Royal Bank of Scotland notes. They have turned up in shops as far afield as Wetheral, near Carlisle, the Scottish borders and Middlesbrough.
More than 3,000 forged notes with a face value of £70,920 were detected at banks and more continue to be found as they pass through the system. He used a laser copier to reproduce notes on to high quality paper, then added foil strips and layered on a watermark to make sophisticated copies, said Steven Orange, prosecuting.
Judge Armstrong said: “You are clearly a determined counterfeiter, one not without talent, as the quality of the notes is described as good. Unfortunately for you, that makes it more serious.”
On his release from prison, Bennett will be banned for five years from owning printing or scanning equipment, high quality paper, metal foil or ink. He must tell police about the premises he visits and allow police access to his home to carry out checks. It is only the fourth time that a Serious Crime Prevention Order under the Serious Crime Act 2007 has been used in this country.
Bennett admitted 14 counts relating to the production of counterfeit notes and one charge of possessing a firearm, an air gun, while prohibited.
Outside court, Det Insp Ian Sturrock said: “It was apparent that Bennett was working alone from his home address yet clearly the value of the counterfeit notes suggests that he had numerous contacts throughout the region and beyond.”
Police will use new powers to check on counterfeiter on release from jail
LEGAL history was made yesterday when Bennett was hit by powers used by Durham Police for the first time.
The 52-year-old was made the subject of a Serious Crime Prevention Order under the Serious Crime Act 2007, the first such order to be imposed outside London.
It will come into force on the day he is released from prison and last for five years, prohibiting him from purchasing any printing or scanning equipment or materials that could be used to reproduce documents.
The order also allows police to carry out checks on him without warning. If he breaches the order, he could face up to an additional five years in prison.
At Durham Crown Court, Bennett had already pleaded guilty to 14 charges relating to the production of counterfeit English, Scottish and euro bank notes and one of possessing a firearm while prohibited from doing so at his home in Oakenshaw, near Crook.
Crown advocate Steven Orange said forged notes worth £70,920 had been recovered so far.
"This counterfeiting operation was on a surprising scale, given that it was going on in the back room of his small cottage, but Bennett had all the equipment he needed to produce fake bank notes of extremely high quality," he said.
"He had assembled materials and tools to forge bank notes that often appeared, at first glance, to be genuine.
"The courts take an extremely serious view of counterfeiting and for that reason, under the Proceeds of Crime Act, we are applying for an order allowing us to confiscate all the profits from his criminal activity, meaning he could lose everything, such as his car and his house, unless he proves he purchased them legally." Bennett was convicted of counterfeiting money in 2002 and sentenced to four years in prison. He has been arrested three times since and it is for those three sets of offences that he was sentenced yesterday.
Det Insp Ian Sturrock, of Durham Police, led the investigation into Bennett’s counterfeiting activities, supported by the Serious Organised Crime Agency.
He said: "The prevention order imposed today will be an effective policing tool to monitor Bennett’s future activities. It will impose restrictions on his lifestyle."
The illegal mint at 4 Institute Street
NOT a lot happens in Oakenshaw, a village of terraced streets and a smattering of newer properties for commuters to Durham or Crook.
The Wikepedia internet encyclopedia merely says: "Oakenshaw is a village in County Durham in England. It is situated to the north of Willington."
There is no shop, no post office, no pub and the social club closed recently.
Its only claim to fame is that racehorse trainer Howard Johnson exercises his string of thoroughbreds – many of them owned by Tyneside multi-millionaire Graham Wylie, who founded the IT company Sage – on fields surrounding the village.
It is not known if John Bennett liked a flutter on the horses, but he was not short of cash to have a bet.
The only problem was, his money was counterfeit.
Behind the net curtains of one run-down terraced house in Institute Street, Bennett set up his own illegal mint.
The 52-year-old, who used to live with his girlfriend, who subsequently left him, grew up in Institute Street, according to one neighbour.
She said: "His mother lived there before him and he used to live there with his brother.
"He was a nice lad, he kept himself to himself.
"I think he liked a drink, he used to go to the social club until it closed."
Perhaps if it had stayed open Bennett may have got out of the house more.
Instead, he installed sophisticated printing machinery and set up his own mint at number 4 Institute Street.
He was sentenced for printing counterfeit currency valued at £70,920, but many more of his fake £20 Bank of England and Bank of Scotland notes may still be being spent by innocent consumers who have no idea that the notes are fake.
One puzzle is what Bennett did with all the money.
He had no flash car, no smart clothes and his house would be described as modest at best.
Chris Baker, representing him at Durham Crown Court, said his client had been threatened by "criminal elements" who ordered him to carry on counterfeiting even after his first arrest.