Trees sentenced for fake bomb detectors

Trees sentenced for fake bomb detectors

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Introduction

We looked last year at the case of James McCormick who was sent to prison for 10 years last year for selling fake bomb detectors to various armed forces, raking in many millions of pounds.

Well, on 3rd October 2014 a slightly lower budget version of this came home to roost as the last of the fraud investigations relating to these home-made detection devices, as husband and wife duo Samuel and Joan Tree were sentenced for a similar thing.

Mr Tree got 3 years prison, with Mrs Tree getting 2 years, but suspended for 2 years.

 

Facts

The BBC news report has some good background on the case (and others like it) that stemmed from a Newsnight investigation.

Basically, they sold their bomb detector devices for £2,000 which were passed on to an agent who re-sold them for much higher sums, sometimes £25,000 each, despite that the fact they  “were nothing more than plastic boxes with a free-rotating metal antenna” and were “based on a novelty “golf ball detector” called the Gopher which sold for around $20 (£12) in the US.

Despite the fact that the military and other groups that bought them are not exactly naive consumers, the fraud was presumably the deliberately misleading marketing that went beyond what lawyers would call ‘mere puff‘.

But if there was any argument about that, Mr Tree also claimed that “the detectors could track down missing people if a photograph of them was placed inside” – obviously completely junk science (he had apparently offered to use this relating to Madeleine McCann).

 

Sentence

The Trees have the dubious pleasure of being one of the first people being sentenced under the new Guidelines for Fraud (notwithstanding that the offences were committed long before) – see page 6 onwards.

We would think that Mr Tree would be Higher Culpability with Mrs Tree as Medium on the basis of their respective roles. The Harm is easier to calculate as it is based on loss caused. Category 1 is £1 million, so we’ll go for that.

In determining Harm, there is also a bonus round where the particular impact can cause a case to go into the next bracket up. Whilst that would be here, as it is already in the highest category, this is not so important (but indicates an aggravating feature).

This would give a starting point of 7 years for Mr Tree and 5 for Mrs. Tree. Much higher than they got, even allowing for credit for a plea of guilty.

 

Comment

Why such a big difference? There are various possibilities – one may be that this whole enterprise may be seen as being one with Mr McCormick and others, with the Trees being further down the chain. Or, it may be a case where it is not as sophisticated as it seems and the ‘feel’ that the Judge took from the case was that it was worth much less than it first seemed.

Unless and until the sentencing remarks are published, we are none the wiser. It seemed that the Trees were “relieved at the leniency of their sentences, with Mrs Tree seen mouthing “thank you” to the judge.” so we would not be expecting an appeal where the facts come out in more detail.

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Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.

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