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£1m Black Country conman finally locked up after being caught in Bournemouth

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A fraudster who went on the run after the first day of his trial for a £1 million publishing con is finally behind bars.

Michael Phelan, from Stourbridge, was discovered in a betting shop on the south coast after he absconded from court and went on the run for two months.

In October he was found guilty in his absence and sentenced to seven-and-a-half years after failing to turn up on the second day of his trial at Birmingham Crown Court.

The 61-year-old was arrested 120 miles away from Stourbridge in Bournemouth High Street last week and eventually started his prison sentence on Thursday.

He had been convicted of 33 offences of fraud and theft for having run a business franchise con.

It came following a lengthy investigation by trading standards' national scam-busting team.

Phelan, originally from Cardiff but latterly of no fixed address, used the name Mike Jones to dupe people into investing in his crooked scheme.

He promised victims a guaranteed level of earnings and their money back within 12 months if they wanted to opt out.

Victims were recruited to buy the rights to distribute his books for between £4,750 and £79,000.

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However, when they requested to see the books they were unavailable or promised support never materialised.

The scam ran for more than 10 years, making Phelan about £1m.

During the trial, evidence was heard from more than 30 witnesses from across the country who had invested money in the scheme.

Many had been left bankrupt and even homeless.

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One, from Blackpool, loaned Phelan £90,000, most of which was never repaid, with Phelan moving to the West Midlands to avoid paying.

Here, he started once again to recruit agents into his scheme, operating out of Stourbridge and Brierley Hill.

After he failed to return to court, claiming he was ill, inquiries showed he had cleared out the room he had been renting, and the five-week trial continued without him.

Brought back to Birmingham Crown Court last week, he admitted the additional offence of failing to attend court whilst on bail.

He was then reprimanded for trying to undermine the justice system and due to his actions causing further expense to the public purse.

Phelan was sentenced to an additional six months in jail for the Bail Act offence.

This offence will run consecutively to the initial term he was handed for fraud, making a total of eight years behind bars.

Lord Toby Harris, chairman of National Trading Standards, said Phelan operated a 'major fraudulent scheme' that left some of his victims bankrupt or homeless.

He said: "Mr Phelan then attempted to evade the consequences of his actions by absconding from the court during his trial.

"I am pleased that Mr Phelan has now been brought to justice.

"He operated a major fraudulent scheme.

"The scheme left his victims out of pocket and in many cases bankrupt or homeless.

"I would like to thank all those involved with the investigation into his fraudulent scheme, and to Dorset Police."

He added that the efforts of Dorset Police had ensured that Phelan was now held accountable for the crimes he committed.

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