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Five years for furniture fraudster

20poundnotesFormer Swindon furniture retailer Christopher Baines has been sentenced to five years in prison – once police find him.

'Mr Baines is a professional conman. He has a record for dishonesty which stretches back to 1977, so 36 years during which he has been consistently dishonest,' said Judge Euan Ambrose. 'There were no fewer than 22 victims of this fraud, lost to them a little over £22,000. They all suffered anger and frustration and some considerable upset because these offences took place in the run up to Christmas.'

The jury found him guilty of 30 charges of fraud and not-guilty on nine. A further 13 were thrown out as it could not be proved he had made the offer of the sale at the Mister Woodz store in Swindon.

After they had returned their verdicts, jurors laughed when they were told of Baines claims for not appearing at Swindon Crown Court, including having a leg amputated.

After he pleaded not guilty in January last year, the last time he was seen, he was released on bail for a trial to start in the spring. In April 2012 he sent faxes and an email saying he had been in a car accident while on holiday in Cancun, Mexico, and sending his lawyers a picture of the car. He initially said he had a broken pelvis and femur, cracked ribs and blood clot, then soon after that he had a leg amputated and half of his spleen removed.

With the first message was a letter in Spanish from a doctor saying he would leave hospital in late June and then need at least two weeks of physiotherapy before he could fly. By August he had been expected to attend court and when he failed to show the police made further inquiries in Central America to try and find the truth. In the following months they received a call from Essex, where some of his family live, reporting a sighting of him – with two legs. Further inquiries with the hospital found it had not had a man by that name undergoing an amputation following a car crash.

The police have continued to search for Baines, believing he may be living in East London. He could be charged with perverting the course of justice as well as failing to surrender to custody.