Update on 8 April 2019: This press release originally listed Bessent’s sentence for the director disqualification as five months and the total sentence to be served as 40 months in prison. After an application from the defence, on 8 April His Honour Judge Nicholas Barker amended the sentence he had handed down to Bessent for the director disqualification from five months to four months. The total sentence Bessent was ordered to serve was therefore also reduced from 40 months to 39 months in prison.
An accountant has been jailed for more than three years after he fraudulently took more than £290,000 from a pension scheme.
Roger William Bessent was a trustee and administrator for the Focusplay Retirement Benefit Scheme but transferred savers’ money into struggling and new businesses he part owned and which were run by himself, his family and a client.
He now faces further court action to make him repay the cash.
Sentencing Bessent, 66, at Preston Crown Court on 29 March to 39 months in prison, His Honour Judge Nicholas Barker said the defendant’s “selfish and greedy acts” targeted “ordinary, hard-working people” who had trusted Bessent to invest their money to provide for their retirement.
He said: “The system relies on trust. It’s that trust you breached. You used their money as your own.
“You knew what you were doing was dishonest and wrong.”
Bessent had pleaded guilty to multiple counts of fraud, making prohibited employer–related investments (ERI) and acting as a director while disqualified.
The convictions follow investigations by both The Pensions Regulator (TPR) and the Insolvency Service during which the agencies shared information to identify the offences being committed by Bessent, whose business is based at Navigation Business Village, Navigation Way, Ashton on Ribble, Preston.
It is the first time a prosecution by TPR has led to an immediate custodial sentence.
The court set a date of 5 July for a further hearing when a confiscation order will be sought to force Bessent, from Lancashire, to repay the money he took and which remains outstanding.
Nicola Parish, TPR’s Executive Director of Frontline Regulation, said:
“By working with the Insolvency Service, we have brought Bessent to justice and will now go after the money he took from the pension scheme.
“This sentence shows how seriously the courts take the theft of people’s hard-earned savings.
“Trustees should be in no doubt that if they abuse their position like Bessent did they should be prepared to go to prison.”
John Fitzsimmons, Chief Investigator for the Insolvency Service, said:
“When Roger Bessent signed his disqualification undertaking, he would have been fully aware he shouldn’t have been managing a company or that he risked going to jail. He clearly thought he could disregard his restrictions but thankfully his wrongdoings eventually caught up with him and has led to severe enforcement action.
“We welcome the court’s decision to jail him. Working in tandem with TPR, we will put a stop to those unscrupulous company directors who think they are above the law.”
Guy Opperman, Minister for Pensions and Financial Inclusion, said:
“Fraudsters who abuse positions of trust to line their own pockets with other people’s hard-earned savings will feel the full force of the law. I welcome the sentence handed down by the courts today, and the regulator’s action in bringing this prosecution.
“We’re determined to protect everyone’s pensions which is why we’re introducing a new offence of wilful or reckless behaviour relating to a pension scheme, punishable by up to seven years in jail or unlimited fines.”
Judge Barker sentenced Bessent to serve 35 months for the fraud offences and four months for the ERI offences, to be served concurrently. Bessent was also ordered to serve four months for the director disqualification offences.
Notes to editors
- The Focusplay Retirement Benefit Scheme was the pension scheme for Gleeson Bessent (Accountants and Business Advisers) Ltd, of which Bessent was a director. Bessent was also a director of a professional pension trustee firm, Gleeson Bessent Trustees Ltd, which was trustee to the Focusplay scheme. In this way, Bessent was able to access the pension scheme’s funds and transfer them to his other businesses.
- Roger Bessent used more than £120,000 to buy himself and his wife a house to rent out as a personal investment but their daughter lived in it with her partner. Other funds from the scheme were used to pay tax bills for Bessent’s accountancy business and the business of a client, to subsidise the running costs of a children’s nursery and as start-up investment capital in his son-in-law’s physiotherapy business.
- In the pension scheme’s books he presented the transfers as loans and created false minutes and records of the pension scheme listing other trustees as present at meetings when they were not.
- TPR charged Bessent with fraud by abuse of position and making employer-related investments by way of prohibited loans – the first time TPR had prosecuted for either of the offences. Bessent pleaded guilty to five counts of fraud and two counts of making employer-related investments when he appeared at Preston Crown Court on 27 February. Three other counts of employer-related investments were left to lie on file at TPR’s request.
- Following an investigation by the Insolvency Service, Gleeson Bessent Trustees Limited and another of Bessent’s companies Gleeson Bessent Trustee Services Limited (which was administrator to the Focusplay scheme) were wound up by the High Court in 2017. TPR appointed Dalriada Trustees Limited as an independent trustee to the Focusplay scheme and Bessent subsequently accepted a voluntary disqualification from being a director.
- The Insolvency Service charged Bessent with breaching the disqualification undertaking. Bessent pleaded guilty to one count of acting as a director of a limited company while disqualified when he appeared at Preston Crown Court on 27 February.
- TPR is the regulator of work-based pension schemes in the UK. Our statutory objectives are: to protect members’ benefits; to reduce the risk of calls on the Pension Protection Fund (PPF); to promote, and to improve understanding of, the good administration of work-based pension schemes; to maximise employer compliance with automatic enrolment duties; and to minimise any adverse impact on the sustainable growth of an employer (in relation to the exercise of the regulator’s functions under Part 3 of the Pensions Act 2004 only).