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Son who fleeced £43,000 from dad's Folkestone business jailed

A fraudster who fleeced £43,000 from his father’s beloved family business has been jailed.

Michael Humphery-Smith, of Boughton-under-Blean near Faversham, siphoned customers while working for dad’s Folkestone firm, Ancestors.

Michael Humphery-Smith has been jailed for defrauding his own father
Michael Humphery-Smith has been jailed for defrauding his own father

But the 43-year-old’s ruse was blown apart when he accidentally sent his father Nicholas a fraudulent bill, clearly revealing the foul play.

Nicholas described his “total shock” at being duped by his “best friend, partner and son,” during the trial at Canterbury Crown Court last year.

The heartbroken father appeared in the public gallery at the same court on Monday, as Humphery-Smith was locked up for two-and-a-half years.

“Your offending involved some significant planning as you incorporated a company and conducted your own business, while still employed by Ancestors,” Recorder Janet Bignell KC said.

Formed in 1992, Ancestors provided memorabilia for major museums and historic sites, with royal palaces and Westminster Abbey among its clientèle.

At the trial in August last year, jurors heard Nicholas employed his son as a sales manager in 2017, when Ancestors boasted a 20-strong workforce and £1.5 million turnover.

Early that year, there were plans to expand the firm, with Humphery-Smith being appointed to head up the sales division.

But Nicholas would soon find himself bewildered as business flagged and Humphery-Smith’s performance faltered.

“They couldn’t understand why their sales were so poor. Ancestors considered pulling out of the market altogether,” prosecutor Richard Milne told the court.

“The reason it was so poor is all the business was being secretly diverted, siphoned off by this defendant.”

Michael Humphery-Smith was caught after accidentally emailing a bogus invoice to his dad
Michael Humphery-Smith was caught after accidentally emailing a bogus invoice to his dad

The married father-of-one was quietly running roughshod over his employment contract by setting up rival memorabilia firm Burnt Toast Solutions, jurors heard.

After Ancestors sold collectibles to some customers, Humphery-Smith would send bills under his new company name, Burnt Toast, to divert payments.

But in September 2018, a rushed and flustered Humphery-Smith accidentally emailed a bogus invoice to Nicholas.

He said during the trial: “I opened the email. I didn’t notice the name immediately, and saw the price. I printed it out, and that is when I went into total shock because I saw not Ancestors, but Burnt Toast Solutions.

“I thought ‘what has he been doing, why is he doing this, is this why we don’t have the sales?’

“He was taking our business away from us.”

Nicholas explained he soon unearthed “hundreds and hundreds” of damning emails in Humphery-Smith’s inbox, where he appeared to promote Burnt Toast and urge customers to use its services.

One email read in court said: “I have recently set up a new side business - please find a lower quote.”

Days later, Nicholas suspended his son, who “stormed off after handing over the phone, returned, and asked for some cash for the bus”.

Humphery-Smith denied any wrongdoing but was convicted unanimously of fraud by abuse of position on August 18.

Michael Humphery-Smith was sentenced at Canterbury Crown Court
Michael Humphery-Smith was sentenced at Canterbury Crown Court

Since then, Ancestors argued in victim impact statements Humphery-Smith stole considerably more than £43,000.

The firm claimed his criminality had a “massive impact on the closure” of the company, alongside 16 job losses, the court heard.

But in six months it has failed to provide sufficient evidence, prompting the judge to throw out the allegations.

She ruled the firm collapsed as a result of the pandemic as sales dried up during the fallout of lockdowns.

The judge added Ancestors had taken a “broad brush” approach with its allegations, making it “impossible to form these views to the criminal standard”.

“In my judgement, it is the evidence at trial which is the relevant evidence to inform sentencing here,” she said.

“And it is the evidence which relates to the criminal charges which were brought against Mr Humphery-Smith for which he stands to be sentenced,” she said.

Kieran Brand, mitigating, said Humphery-Smith’s fraud was “not particularly sophisticated,” as he siphoned “perhaps three contacts” who were “friends of his”.

Urging the judge to suspend the sentence, he added Humphery-Smith has no previous convictions and, in the past, demonstrated “exemplary conduct”.

“This was offending which came to light four-and-a-half years ago, and since that period, while it is right there was a trial which caused some of that delay, this was a defendant who had to wait a considerable time for a charge,” he added.

“It has been a number of months now since the trial, where the matters have hung over his head, and the important point is he has remained out of trouble throughout.

“He has not so much as picked up a speeding ticket.”

But Mr Brand said the defendant, of Burnt Oast Road, was subsequently unable to grow Burnt Toast Solutions with the prospect of a jail spell looming.

Supported by friends and family in the public gallery and wearing a brown suit jacket, Humphery-Smith appeared visibly distressed after the sentence was handed down.

The father-of-one will serve half the sentence in prison and the remainder on licence, while also being subject to the Proceeds of Crime Act.

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