A LEADING Westcountry businessman has been jailed for defying a ban on running a company and leaving creditors owed more than £120,000.
Rodney Major organised conferences and exhibitions all over the region and hired guest speakers including celebrity chef Michael Caines and Apprentice star Katie Hopkins.
He presented himself as a successful entrepreneur who gave keynote speeches at the events. His website said he had years of experience in publishing and marketing.
In reality he was a convicted fraudster whose last two businesses had gone bust owing a total of £126,000 and he was acting in defiance of a ban on him managing any public business.
He persuaded his partner Debbie Robbins to give up her safe job at the River Dart Country Park at Buckfastleigh to act as a figurehead of his company, hiding the fact that he was barred from doing so.
Major’s company Network Solutions ran events in Barnstaple, Cornwall, Taunton, Bridgwater, Plymouth and Torbay.
While awaiting sentence he carried on the business, running it as a sole trader from a base in Marsh Barton, Exeter, and its website is still selling stalls at a series of forthcoming events.
Ex-soldier Major, 58, of St Luke’s Road, Torquay, admitted breaching his disqualification by running Network Central and an online directory business called TBX between 2009 and last year.
Former hotel owner Robbins, 63, who now lives in St Nexans in the Dordogne in France, was found guilty of one count of aiding and abetting him.
Major was jailed for six months and banned from running a company for eight years and Robbins was ordered to do 80 hours unpaid community work and disqualified for four years by Recorder Mr Robin Belben at Exeter Crown Court.
He told Major: "The purpose of the disqualification was to protect other people from doing business with someone with your history. You broke that interdiction within a short space of time.
“You did it not once, but twice and the first company TBX went into liquidation with debts of more than £50,000. The second went into liquidation, albeit with no debts.
“You used your partner Robbins to allow you to do what you were not allowed to do. An immediate sentence of imprisonment is inevitable to mark the seriousness of these offences.”
Miss Mary McCarthy, prosecuting, said Major was disqualified from running any business in 2008 after the failure of his previous company, the Exeter Business Directory, which collapsed with debts of £70,000.
He broke the order by setting up TBX and Network Central, where he was joined by Robbins, who acted as nominal managing director but did not play a leading role in running the company.
Miss McCarthy said: "This was a device so he could continue to have an involvement in the business. TBX was wound up in June 2010 with losses to creditors of £56,000.”
She said Major had been jailed for 12 months at Swindon Crown Court in 1989 for obtaining property by deception and the offence appeared to be similar in nature.
Mr Martin Salloway, defending, said Major is now running the business as a sole trader but making an income of only around £200 a week from it.
He said: "It is a perfectly legitimate enterprise. He is a man who is used to being in control and being told he could not be a director left him feeling he was denied the opportunity to earn a living.”
Mr Lee Bremridge, defending Robbins, said she had played a genuine managerial role and was devastated by the jury’s verdict.
He said she has now retired and is living in France but is willing to come back and do community service work as punishment.