Three women sentenced for 'pyramid scheme' roles

Susan Crane (left) and Mary Nash Image copyright PA
Image caption Susan Crane (left) and Mary Nash were jailed for six months

Three women have been sentenced for their roles in a "pyramid" scheme in which thousands of people lost money.

The "Give and Take" scheme, which operated in south-west England and south Wales, saw more than £20m invested by about 10,000 people.

Mary Nash, 65, Susan Crane, 69, and Hazel Cameron, 54, all admitted operating and promoting the scheme.

Nash and Crane were jailed for six months while Cameron's six-month sentence was suspended for two years.

'Financial greed'

They are among 11 women, aged between 34 and 69, who were the first to be prosecuted for such a scheme, under new legislation in the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Act 2008.

Judge Mark Horton, sentencing the trio at Bristol Crown Court, said the scheme - nicknamed "G&T" - had ruined families and friendships.

He said: "Many people will wonder how so many mature women of good character and unblemished careers got involved in such a large, destructive and socially corrosive illegal investment scheme.

"The sad answer I regret to give is one of financial greed, deceit and selfishness overall which in their turn led to a catastrophic loss to a large number of innocent members of the community duped by one of the oldest investment deceptions of all time."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Hazel Cameron received a suspended sentence

The judge added that those behind the scheme were aware of the "mood and desperation" of those persuaded to join.

Nash and Crane, both of Broadleas, Bristol, and Cameron, of Chew Stoke, Somerset, entered guilty pleas last month ahead of a retrial they were due to face.

Prosecutor Miles Bennett said: "The reality is that at the time this scheme was starting, this country was entering into a recession.

"One of the ironies is none of these three defendants needed the money from the scheme at all."

'Beg, borrow or steal'

The scam began in Bath and Bristol and spread to other parts of the UK including Gloucester, Bridgwater, Cheltenham, Torquay, Weston-super-Mare and Wales.

The group encouraged people to "beg, borrow or steal" £3,000 to put into the scheme between May 2008 and April 2009.

Those running the scheme told its investors it had a quick, easy and legal way to make cash - by paying in £3,000 they would receive more than £20,000, as more members joined.

But eventually the number of new recruits dried up and the scheme collapsed, with 90% of investors losing their money.

It is thought committee members behind the scheme gained up to £92,000 each.

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Media captionHow does a 'pyramid scheme' work?

Laura Fox, 69, of East Harptree in Somerset, Jennifer Smith-Hayes, 69, of Bishopsworth in Bristol and Carol Chalmers, 68, of Weston-super-Mare were convicted of operating and promoting the scheme during a trial in 2012.

They were sentenced to nine months in prison and have now served their sentences.

Sally Phillips, 34, of Hengrove, Bristol, Jane Smith, 50, of Bishopsworth, and Rita Lomas, 49, of Whitchurch in Bristol admitted promoting the scheme in 2012.

Phillips received a three-month suspended prison sentence, Smith a four-month suspended sentence and Lomas a four-and-a-half month suspended sentence.

Two trials of Tracey Laurence, 60, of Bradley Stoke, South Gloucestershire failed to reach a verdict.

Rhalina Yuill, 34, of St George, Bristol was acquitted of promoting a pyramid scheme on her second trial.

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