The Birmingham Evening Mail has finally got its man – after a four-year investigation.
The newspaper’s front-page splash, "Holiday Conman Jailed", was a triumph for dogged journalism. Martin Banks, who was chief reporter four years ago but who has now left the paper, began inquiring into Peter Sutcliffe in 1998 after readers complained they had been tricked into handing over money to his company on promises of free or discounted holidays.
Sutcliffe ran Eurogold Travel and Leisure Services in Digbeth, and Birmingham Crown Court heard this month that he and his colleagues were actually "timeshare middlemen with nothing else to offer".
With the owner of Eurogold, Christopher Penman, Sutcliffe was later discovered to have set up another company, Sunrise Holidays UK, in Worcester.
Both companies telephoned families after picking them from the phone book and offered them "luxury" holidays at four-star resorts in France, Scotland, Marbella and Cornwall – if they paid a registration fee of up to £300. After high-pressure sales talk, some families were persuaded to upgrade the holidays by £200 and £300. One family was presented with a bill for £1,753 for their "free" holiday, towards which Sunrise said it would pay only £500.
Sutcliffe and Penman disappeared as city trading standards officers launched a prosecution against them on charges of deception and making false statements. Penman was not in the dock. He has fled the country and is believed to be in Russia.
The Evening Mail did not give up in its efforts to bring the men to justice. Deputy editor Steve Dyson told Press Gazette: "We kept chasing it over the years. At one point we actually did an appeal for information and sent papers with a picture of him and details of what he had done around the country. It took a long, long time but eventually he was traced and arrested.
"You can never start a campaign and not finish it. You have to stick with it all the way through. It’s important to keep the diary up-to-date and chase stories constantly. Our readers who were involved are very grateful for the fact that he is in prison."
Sutcliffe was jailed for four months on 10 charges.
By Jean Morgan