Gareth Cooper: Ex-Lions player's wife avoids jail after £1m fraud

Gareth Cooper Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Gareth Cooper was capped 46 times by Wales between 2001 and 2010

The ex-wife of a former Wales and British and Irish Lions rugby player has avoided prison after she admitted defrauding her husband of more than £1m and bankrupting him.

Gareth Cooper set up a gym and freight business which his wife Debra Leyshon, 41, ran, but she took out loans behind his back when the business struggled.

Leyshon was given a two year sentence, suspended for two years.

Mr Cooper said his trust in others had been "destroyed".

Leyshon, of Wind Street, Laleston, admitted 13 counts of fraud at an earlier plea hearing.

Cardiff Crown Court heard Leyshon, 41, had pretended the business was "thriving", but took out loans and re-mortgaged the family home and four other properties.

She was assisted in the fraud by two associates of Mr Cooper: Mark Lee, of Lower Hill Barton Road, Exeter, and Simon Thomas, of Beaconsfield, Wick, Vale of Glamorgan, who admitted to one and two counts of fraud respectively.

Image copyright Wales News Service
Image caption Debra Leyshon leaves court
Image copyright Wales News Service
Image caption Gareth Cooper said his trust in others had been "destroyed"

Thomas, 47, a business partner of Mr Cooper, admitted defrauding him of £380,000, while Lee, 43, took £50,000 from the fraud.

Thomas received a 16-month sentence suspended for two years and was disqualified from being the director of a company for eight years, while Lee was given a nine-month sentence suspended for two years.

Judge David Wynn Morgan told Leyshon: "The loss was not intended, you hoped the loans might be repaid.

"It was not used to fund a luxury lifestyle, it was expended keeping the business afloat."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Gareth Cooper played for Bath, Celtic Warriors, Newport Gwent Dragons, Gloucester and Cardiff Blues in his club career

In a victim impact statement, Mr Cooper told the court he was a private man who had tried to avoid doing interviews when he was a professional rugby player.

He said it had been a "dreadful experience which has destroyed my trust in others".

"Debra betrayed my trust and jeopardised our children's future," he added.

Mr Cooper, who won 46 caps for Wales and went on the 2005 Lions tour of New Zealand, had to move back in with his parents and borrow £120,000 from their pensions.

Leyshon, Thomas and Lee will face a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing next year.

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