Gift of gab fraudster who took years to snare

Elam's luxury Harrogate apartment. Photo: West Yorkshire Police
Elam's luxury Harrogate apartment. Photo: West Yorkshire Police
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Operation Teddington, the major police investigation which snared Yorkshire fraudster John Elam, began in 2005 with talks over the proposed sale of one of Leeds’s best-known restaurants.

Elam had been of interest to police for several years as members of his family had been in trouble with the law and intelligence suggested that he knew Dennis Slade, the Leeds crime baron who would be jailed for life in 2010 for conspiring to murder a rival.

But although he had a criminal record dating from 1978, the property developer’s convictions were mainly for minor acts of violence and dishonesty.

“He was fairly high on our radar of organised crime groups that we weren’t having much success with,” a police source said.

“He had a few convictions for assault, and bits and pieces, but nothing that showed what he really was and what he had been involved in.

“We monitored various intelligence sources over a period of years, looking for areas of vulnerability.”

Detectives found such an opportunity in May 2005, when police were informed that Elam owned the high-profile Medina restaurant in Britannia Street, Leeds, and was seeking a buyer.

An undercover officer, pretending to be a businessman interested in buying it, held meetings with its representatives over the summer, eventually being invited to an apartment in York Place, in the heart of Leeds’s legal quarter.

This was Elam’s apartment, and the office where he handled his business affairs. It was soon bugged, enabling detectives to listen in as their suspect ran his criminal network.

“We hadn’t known about that apartment,” the source said. “We didn’t know where Elam was operating from until we received that call.

“Once we ha identified the address, we commenced some intensive surveillance inside the premises. It was clear there were a number of professional people from Yorkshire in his circle – a solicitor, a financial adviser and an accountant – so we decided to extend the investigation.”

With the help of these professionals – solicitor Philip Brown, former bank manager Mark Nelson and self-employed accountant Stephen Farman – Elam was able to hide the true ownership of the Medina as it ran up debts, meaning creditors met a barrier when trying to recover money.

The restaurant was run by a succession of companies. If one ran up debts, it would be dissolved and the venue taken over by a new firm, still under Elam’s influence. Elam’s chain of car washes in Leeds and Bradford were run in the same way. Support came from other conspirators including Russell Spence, a former Formula 3000 racing driver and construction company boss who lived at Kildwick Hall, near Skipton – a mansion once valued at £3.5m.

By September 2006, detectives had gathered enough information to strike. More than 200 police officers, plus bodies including HM Revenue and Customs, the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the Law Society, were assembled to make arrests and raid offices and homes across Yorkshire.

In addition to the Medina and car wash frauds, Elam faced further charges of assault and perverting the course of justice.

Detectives believe Elam had interests in Spain, enjoyed access to duty-free trading in Dubai and relaxed at a five-star beach and spa resort in Thailand but they say these perks only came his way thanks to the input of seemingly reputable professionals.

“Elam was a good businessman, a property developer with a knack for buying the right things at the right price,” the source said.

“But he also had the gift of the gab, which he used to entice professionals into his web of corruption.

“It all built up to a point where the professionals couldn’t get out of it if they wanted to.”

Champagne lifestyle

The lavish lifestyle enjoyed by John Elam was clear to see when police raided one of his homes – a stylish top-floor penthouse apartment.

Officers found bottles of expensive wine in a stunningly furnished kitchen when they entered the property in Harrogate’s fashionable Montpellier Quarter, renowned for its designer boutiques, antique shops and specialist retailers.

Elam’s former homes are believed to include a house in the Scarcroft area of Leeds and a six-bedroom detached property in the exclusive village of Sicklinghall, near Wetherby.

Other places understood to have been used by the criminal include a flat in Hans Road, near Harrods in the Knightsbridge area of London.