A YORKSHIRE businessman who fraudulently took £1.2m out of his friend’s businesses, resulting in the collapse of a food retail chain and the loss of 350 jobs, has been jailed for four years.
James Burdall used some of the money transferred from firms owned by Sheffield entrepreneur Lawrence Wosskow to fund a “lavish lifestyle” including an indoor swimming pool at his home, a court heard yesterday.
After earning the trust of Mr Wosskow, a former joint owner of the Little Chef chain of restaurants who considered Burdall his “best and most trusted friend”, the 49-year-old transferred funds to the account of his own group Forge Dam.
Although he repaid some of the £2.8m transferred between 2006 and 2010, the net loss to Bradwells Ice Cream Ltd was £776,000 while Out of Town Leisure Group, which ran a number of food outlets including eight at Meadowhall Shopping Centre, had a net loss of £818,000.
Burdall would have been entitled to be paid £405,000 over this period, meaning the total fraudulently taken out of the company was £1.16m.
Out of Town could not sustain such losses, Sheffield Crown Court heard, and was put into administration in 2010. Around 350 jobs were lost.
The court heard that father-of-two Burdall, of Cottage Lane in Bents Green, Sheffield, went to school with Mr Wosskow and became friends with him again in 2005 through their shared interest in cycling.
After Mr Wosskow suffered a heart attack in 2006, he emigrated to Florida with his family and left Burdall to oversee his businesses.
From the very start of their arrangement, Burdall started to transfer funds from the accounts of Mr Wosskow’s companies to the accounts of his own business.
Ian Goldsack, prosecuting, told the court: “The pattern of transfers back and forth and their frequency seems to have no rhyme or reason other than to complicate and thereby disguise what was happening.”
The court was told that Burdall appeared to have use money from the transfers to spend £280,000 on an indoor swimming pool at his home.
South Yorkshire Police began a complex investigation into Burdall’s activities in July 2010. He later admitted four counts of fraud by abuse of position.
Speaking yesterday, Mr Wosskow said: “His actions have had a huge impact on my health and also my finances, as when the Out of Town group was placed into administration Bradwells ice cream company was also in a very precarious position.”
Nicholas Johnson, for Burdall, told the court the defendant had not intended to carry out fraud “from the outset”.
He said: “This defendant, having formed a friendship with Mr Wosskow, intended to make a success of these enterprises.”
He said Burdall, who has lost his house and has since been put on sedation after being diagnosed with depression, made “bad business decisions” and “lost his grip on reality”.
Sentencing Burdall, Judge Paul Watson QC told him: “Lawrence Wosskow had two significant misfortunes in the early part of this century – firstly his failing health and secondly renewing his acquaintance with you.”
He said Burdall was “a man of previous impeccable character” but told him: “This was more than reckless, there came a time when you knew the business could not withstand such losses and you continued to transfer funds.”
Graham Wragg, fraud manager at South Yorkshire Police, said: “Burdall’s actions can only be described as the cynical abuse of the trust and friendship placed in him by Lawrence Wosskow.
“In his self-serving pursuit of an extravagant lifestyle he caused the loss of the livelihood of 350 ordinary individuals and risked further damage to the health of his former friend.”