London Colney fraudster is spared jail

Claire Duke is seen leaving Stafford Crown Court in Stafford, England on April 15 2014.

Claire Duke is seen leaving Stafford Crown Court in Stafford, England on April 15 2014. - Credit: Peter Summers / Newsteam

Fraudster Claire Duke, who swindled a Premier League footballer and others out of more than £80,000, has walked free from court.

Mother-of-two Duke, 38, who comes from London Colney, was handed a two year prison sentence on Tuesday, suspended for two years.

Recorder David Mason told Duke he was not going to send her to jail because of the effect it would have on her family.

At Stafford Crown Court, Duke wept in the dock as she admitted swindling thousands of pounds from her high-profile clients between April 2012 and July 2013 by pocketing cash which was meant for luxury holidays abroad.

Among her victims were Stoke City striker Peter Odemwingie, Liverpool’s Andre Wisdom and former West Bromwich Albion and Celtic manager Tony Mowbray.

Duke had set up a business called Solutions Lifestyle where she advertised flights and hotels at discount prices for her wealthy clients.

Calling herself a lifestyle consultant, she would then take money for holidays and flights from her customers – but ended up keeping the cash for herself.

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The court heard that Mowbray – who was managing Middlesborough at the time – paid Duke over £30,000 for a hotel in Dubai.

But when he arrived with his family, he found not only had a different hotel been booked but it had not even been paid for.

Duke stole nearly £15,500 from Nigerian striker Odemwingie, 32, after obtaining his bank details from his debit card.

She also pocketed £6,000 from defender Wisdom, 21, currently on loan to Derby County, after he paid for a trip to Jamaica

Hugh O’Brien-Quinn, prosecuting said Odemwingie, then playing for West Bromwich Albion, paid Duke £7,000 on his debit card to book flights to Miami. She pocketed the money and then proceeded to use the footballer’s card details for other fraudulent transactions.

The court heard how Duke was booking flights with companies that would allow her to put deposits down and pay later.

She also stole from four other clients – one paid her £8,300 for a flight to South Africa while another spent £5,350 on a holiday to Dubai .

In one case £2,100 was paid upfront to an S.Martin – who turned out to be her then 13-year-old son.

Duke was arrested on February 17 last year but continued to defraud clients while on bail.

She fraudulently stole another £4,100 after a client transferred the money when she said she could book him flights to California for his son’s 21st birthday.

During her interview she told police she had been in a “financial mess”.

Ajanta Kaza, defending, said Duke had only managed to pay back just £3,500 so far but was due to start full-time employment soon.

Describing Duke as “extremely remorseful,” she went on: “She tried to fill holes by using money from other bank accounts, which she now knows was illegal and wrong.”

She had not spent the money on luxury items but on living allowances, her rent, food and care for her children, Ms Kaza added.

The Recorder commented that one reason he had decided not to send Duke to prison was that her son would have to live with his father, her ex-partner, who was violent.

He said that after reading things not available to the public, he had decided to pass a sentence of two years in prison to run concurrently with the seven counts to which she had pleaded guilty, The sentence would be suspended for two years.

Speaking outside court, Duke, who has a 14-year-old son and 19-year-old daughter, said: “I thought the sentence was going to be worse to be honest with you, I thought I was going to prison.

“Having a young family is the most important thing to me.

“This happened a long time ago and I am deeply sorry for all the upset and the stress that I caused.”