A FRAUDSTER who worked for a taxpayer-funded business group until February and conned women out of more than £330,000 has been jailed.

Rob Arnold, aged 49, was employed as a programme executive for OxLEP (Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership) from August – but left in February after an anonymous letter was sent to it and the Oxford Mail regarding his impending fraud trial.

That started in March but he admitted six counts of fraud on its first day.

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Arnold, of Wilnecote, Staffordshire, had been a respected financial advisor for clients along the South coast, Inner London Crown Court heard yesterday.

But he began using clients’ money – and ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ – to boost his ailing energy drinks brand, Voltz, or for his own use.

In all, Arnold admitted to benefitting from £336,095, which he took from usually elderly clients. Some of his victims have since died.

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In the most serious case, a widow was left £195,000 out of pocket.

The court heard she had been left ‘devastated, financially and emotionally’ over Arnold’s deceit and worried how she would cope during her retirement without the money Arnold had taken.

Oxford Mail:

Judge Jeremy Donne QC said: “The reality here is that much of this money was used at an early stage to support Voltz. Some people knew about Voltz, some people didn’t know about Voltz.

"This was undoubtedly a risky investment.”

He jailed Arnold for 38 months and banned him from being a company director for 10 years.

The judge said Arnold's actions had been 'sophisticated and undoubtedly over a sustained period of time'.

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According to its Twitter account, OxLEP is a ‘business-led organisation helping to strengthen the Oxfordshire economy, supporting the creation of jobs.’

All of Oxfordshire council leaders are directors, with the exception of South Oxfordshire District Council’s leader, Jane Murphy.

Bill Service, the council’s cabinet member for partnership and insight, serves as SODC’s director.

OxLEP was asked to give a statement over Arnold's sentencing. It was asked whether it was aware of the charges Arnold faced when it employed him last year.

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It did not send a statement before the Oxford Mail went to print yesterday.

An OxLEP spokesperson has now said: “At no time – prior to his appointment, or during his employment (prior to whistle blowing accusations) were we advised by Mr Arnold that he was facing any prosecution for fraud.

“Mr Arnold was employed within the OxLEP Business team as a Programme Executive. Following the conclusion of our own internal investigations, Mr Arnold resigned from his post on 14 February 2019.

“Mr Arnold was appointed following normal company recruitment processes, including referencing and an enhanced DBS check – no issues were raised through either process."

They added: “His recruitment and appointment were handled in-accordance with our company procedures and the circumstances associated with the allegations, their investigation and his subsequent resignation were fully-communicated to our Board of non-executive directors from when they first became known.

“During his employment, Mr Arnold had no authority to make any payments, and did not do so. All matters were subject to our purchase controls and authorisation process.”

During the hearing, the court was told Arnold had avoided telling close members of his family of the criminal charges and his probable prison sentence until the last few weeks.

It was told he had no considerable assets that could be removed to pay back to his victims. None of them are believed to have received any compensation for their losses.

Arnold was described in court as a 'grafter', who had been working as a labourer following his departure from OxLEP earlier this year.