A SERIAL conman whose victims included friends and two women he met on dating websites has been jailed for 18 months for a series of frauds he carried out to fund his gambling and cocaine addictions.

Matthew Burton, aged 38, of Egremont Close, Evesham, who worked for a Ford car dealership, told the two women he dated that he could get cheap vehicles for them.

But after they handed over cash to pay for the cars, he just frittered it away on his vices – and they never saw their money again.

Burton pleaded guilty to six charges of fraud and one of theft from his employer, PJ Nicholls of Evesham.

The court was told that between August 17 and October 6, 2016, he reconnected with Sara Lee from Churchdown, near Gloucester, on the dating website Plenty of Fish, after previously knowing her from attending the same gym, and she told him she was looking for a new car.

Prosecutor Lucy Taylor said: “As Burton worked in the motor trade industry he found a suitable car for her, a VW Golf, and sent her the online details. He told her he could get it for £500.

Ms Lee borrowed the money and handed it over to Burton. She also topped up his phone by £30.

“But after a period of a couple of weeks there was no sign of the vehicle. He made various excuses. She said in a victim statement that it was money she couldn’t afford to lose.”

Burton then offered a non-existent pool table for sale online between December 12, 2016 and the end of January 2017.

A man who responded to the ad paid the defendant £150 – but there was never a pool table for sale and over the next few weeks the victim heard no more and he lost his money, said the prosecutor.

She continued: “The third offence was when the defendant suggested to an old school friend that he could get an iPhone for him for £165 plus £5 delivery costs. Burton said that he had a contact in a phone shop who wanted to sell some old stock.

“The sum of £170 was paid to Burton but the victim never received the phone and all contact with Burton was lost.”

The next occasion involved another advert for a pool table which was advertised on Gumtree – the victim was conned out of £375 and the pool table never materialised.

Burton also conned a woman from Dorset out of £90 and later £300 which he claimed he needed to borrow to pay for car repairs.

Ms Taylor said: “The next fraudulent transaction involved a woman from Worcester who the defendant met on the dating website Plenty of Fish.

“She wanted a new car and handed over £600 to Burton on July 26, 2017. Over the following weeks he gave a number of excuses why the vehicle hadn’t arrived. She checked out the number plate and found that the vehicle didn’t exist.”

The court was told that Burton had also stolen £3,000 from his employers, PJ Nicholls in Evesham, on December 18, 2018.

Ms Taylor said: “A customer paid a £3,000 deposit for a Ford vehicle and arranged a £3,000 bank transfer to pay the balance. But when they came to pick up the vehicle the £3,000 cash payment had gone missing.

“Burton told his employers that he had taken the money home by mistake and said he would return with it by the close of business that day.

“He never re-appeared and was subsequently sacked by the company.”

Nicholas Lee, defending, said: “Burton has a gambling addiction and a cocaine habit and was using the money he obtained fraudulently to fund these vices.

“Burton developed his gambling addiction at the age of 18. It has been a destructive force throughout his life.

“The consequences of his gambling addiction is that he has destroyed his relationship with his family.”

Judge Martin Picton told Burton: “You have been a thoroughly dishonest person in a very cruel way to your victims.

“You preyed on you victims with some degree of sophistication. You were trusted at your work place.”

“The only option open to me is to impose an immediate custodial sentence.”

Burton was jailed for 18 months.

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