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£1m fraud man goes on run

A BUSINESSMAN jailed for his part in a £1m fraud is on the run after walking free from an open prison.

A BUSINESSMAN jailed for his part in a £1m fraud is on the run after walking free from an open prison.

Police are hunting Graham Ashcroft, 42, after he fled from Kirkham Open Prison in Lancashire.

He was jailed for 71/2 years in September, 2000, after he was found guilty of conspiracy to commit deception.

At his trial at Preston Crown Court, Judge Edward Slinger ordered that he hand over almost £740,000 but it is not known whether any of the proceeds have been recovered.

It is feared Ascroft may have fled the country after walking out of the Category D jail on December 6.

The timing of his exit is a mystery, but police will be aware that there has been a scramble to convert money held in European Union countries set to switch to the euro on January 1.

The final deadline is the end of 2002 but some countries have a much shorter changeover period.

The haulage firm boss was found guilty of taking goods from sealed lorry containers over a 21/2-year period.

Ascroft's accomplice, Paul Taylor, of Hesketh Bank, near Southport, was jailed for 31/2 years.

At last year's trial, it emerged the pair had used their knowledge of the haulage trade to get into the containers without anyone noticing.

Often the thefts would not be discovered until the goods had reached their destination, thousands of miles away.

Among the items they stole were bicycles, wine and beer.

Suspicions about Ascroft, of Higher Lane, Holmeswood, Tarleton, also near Southport, began to surface after people attending trade association meetings swapped stories of thefts.

A spokeswoman for the Prison Service confirmed yesterday: "Mr Ascroft absconded from Kirkham on December 6. He failed to attend his 9pm roll check.

"He was a Category D prisoner, which means a risk assessment had shown he was appropriate for open conditions. The police will be on the look-out for him."

Ascroft had denied two charges of conspiracy to commit deception. Taylor pleaded guilty to three offences of conspiracy to steal and two of theft.

A confiscation order for £737,170 was made against Ascroft and an order for £75,000 made against Taylor.


David Holmes
Chief News Reporter
David Norbury
Mike Fuller
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