On 9th June 2014 snooker player (or former snooker player may be more accurate) Stephen Lee pleaded guilty to fraud and was fined £110 with an order to pay £1,600 compensation to a Marco Shek, the victim of the fraud. No mention was made of the victim surcharge which should have been £20, but one should have been made.
It seems that Mr Lee was in the habit of selling some of his memorabilia on his Facebook page. At some point he had offered his cue for sale for £1,600. A gentleman in Hong Kong was interested and agreed to buy it, transferring the money to him.
There was then presumably a delay whilst Mr Shek waited, prompting at times. After not receiving his cue, he contacted the police. The police noted that Mr Lee was still using the cue that he had sold and so nicked him for fraud.
Seemingly whilst on police bail, Mr Lee emailed Mr Shek saying that if the charges were dropped then he would personally deliver not just the cue, but also some signed photos. No deal, said Mr Shek, and so the prosecution continued.
What was the offence? Isn’t this a civil matter (or perverting the course of justice)?
Almost certainly an offence under s2 Fraud Act 2006. Sometimes it is obvious what is a business problem and what is a fraud, other times less so. If Mr Lee had made the arrangement intending to honour it, then the fact that something went wrong would not make it a criminal offence – the law isn’t there to punish people who are bad at business, or have good intentions, but just get caught up in problems outside of their control.
By his plea of guilty, Mr Lee must have accepted acting dishonestly in relation to his dealings with Mr Shek.
As to the email asking Mr Shek to drop the charges? Mr Lee was on dangerous territory here – depending on the circumstances you could get on the wrong side of a Perverting the Course of Justice charge for an email of that nature. Here this would not appear to be an issue. Even if it had been on the wrong side of the line, then it would probably not be in the public interest to pursue such a charge.
The relevant guidelines are the Fraud Guidelines. It doesn’t really fall neatly into any of those categories, but we’d say it was (if anything) a fraud of the ‘confidence’ variety (page 20), although very much at the lower end of the scale (“Single fraudulent transaction confidence fraud not targeting a vulnerable victim, and involving no or limited planning“).
All in all, assuming that there was dishonesty (as the basis of plea admitted), the sentence seems fair enough. It is a merciful one, but ensures that the offending is marked, which draws a proper balance between the two.