6th Dec, 2016

'Formula 1' fraudster fantasist finally jailed

Stratford Editorial 26th Feb, 2016 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

A FANTASIST who posed as a Formula One chief to run up bills at hotels in Warwickshire and Worcestershire has been jailed.

Coventry Crown Court heard that convicted conman Stuart Howatson also used the same false identity as chief operations officer of the Mercedes F1 racing team to arrange the purchase computer systems and software worth more than £1million.

The 37 year-old of Fisher Road, Bishops Itchington, was jailed for two years after admitting 12 charges of fraud and one of stealing £1,500 from a man he had met in one of the hotels.

Prosecutor Sharon Bahia told the court nine of the offences involved him using that guise to obtain £2,785 worth of accommodation and food at hotels in Leamington, Kidderminster and Bewdley between January and June 2014.

He did so by setting up false e-mail accounts, supposedly of his ‘assistants’ at the F1 team, to book rooms at the hotels.

And while staying at one of them, Howatson met an engineer to whom he made an attractive job offer with Mercedes.

The man even flew to Cologne with his wife to meet up with Howatson – who stole £1,500 from him after conning him into paying out to cover supposed legal expenses on a house purchase in Germany, which he was told would be reimbursed.

In the other three frauds, again by claiming to be the chief operations officer with the Mercedes F1 team, he obtained computer security systems worth over£224,000 and software systems costing nearly €24,000, as well as agreeing to purchase $1.1million worth of computer web security systems.

Whenarrested in November 2004, after he had given his home address to one hotel manager, Howatson told the police his scams had given him ‘a sense of euphoria.’

Howatson had been due to stand trial over two allegations that he had failed to turn up for earlier hearings at Warwick Crown Court without good cause, which he had denied.

But prosecutor Sharon Bahia said documents supporting the contention he had been in hospital following a suicide attempt and then under the care of the mental health crisis team had been verified.

The court heard Howatson had a previous conviction for frauds and other matters, for which he had been jailed in 2010.

That had included him conning a couple into letting him stay at their villa in Spain on the pretence he had the funds to purchase it.

Howatson, then living in Bewdley, had also convinced friends and family that he was a Metropolitan Police officer who had served in the Royal Protection Squad.

Nick Devine, defending, said: “Mr Howatson suffers from a variety of personality disorders that have manifested themselves quite clearly in his behaviour throughout this series of offences.

“This is a man who was seeking self-aggrandisement. It was all about what he got out of the pretence of being somebody in a considerable position of authority in a glamourous line of business.”

Mr Devine added Howatson never intended to receive or use the computer systems and software he ordered, and would not have benefitted financially from them.

Jailing Howatson, Recorder Derek Sweeting QC told him: “You carried off the deception with a great deal of persuasive skill.

“The real purpose of the fraud was to make you feel better and more powerful.”