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13 June 2017, 15:23
A couple involved in a large-scale property fraud have been jailed for a total of 13-and-a-half years after what was believed to have been the longest criminal trial in UK legal history.
Edwin McLaren, 52, orchestrated the £1.6 million property fraud scheme, which involved duping victims in financial difficulty to sign over their homes.
Prosecutors said he preyed on vulnerable people and arranged for the title deeds of their homes to be transferred to his associates without the victims' knowledge.
He was found guilty of 29 charges in May following a trial at the High Court in Glasgow which began in September 2015 and heard evidence over 320 days.
He was sentenced to 11 years in jail on Tuesday as many of his victims watched on from the public gallery.
His wife Lorraine McLaren, 51, was found guilty of two charges, involving a fraudulent mortgage application on their own home. She was sentenced to two-and-a-half years.
As a financial adviser, police said Edwin McLaren had the background knowledge to put together and execute the scheme.
Through adverts in the national press for companies advertising as property solutions or home sale solutions, he targeted people in financial distress as a result of family bereavement, debt or illness.
He would either offer to buy their house or lend them money to clear their debts and in return, he would get what he would say was a part-share ownership of their property.
But in fact, their properties were being transferred wholesale to the names of others, unknown to them, meaning they lost the title deeds to their homes.
Passing sentence, judge Lord Stewart said: "The evidence shows frankly breathtaking dishonesty in every aspect of your enterprise.
"The jury have found you an outright liar.''
During the scheme, Edwin McLaren is said to have enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle, with four cars, including a Bentley, and holidays in Dubai.
The judge said: "It appears your motivation was to secure funds from mortgage lenders to fund an affluent lifestyle.''
In mitigation, his defence lawyer Mark Moir said McLaren was a first time offender and that the length of the trial had contributed to mental health issues.
He said McLaren maintains his innocence.
In mitigation for Lorraine McLaren, her lawyer Kevin McCallum said her husband had a "controlling role in financial matters''.
He said there was no evidence she was involved in defrauding vulnerable people and described Edwin McLaren as the "driving force'' of the scheme.
Lord Stewart said the mortgage was financed by her husband's property fraud and the jury must have found she knew money transferred into her bank account came from the proceeds of crime.
He added: "Anything less than 30 months in custody would fail to reflect the criminality involved.''
Concerns were first raised by a woman who made a complaint to Fife Constabulary in 2012 because she had not been paid the full amount for her house in Cowdenbeath.
Police worked out there were further properties linked to the incident and Edwin McLaren was snared after an investigation involving up to 100 officers discovered a massive fraudulent scheme.
Deputy Crown Agent Lindsey Miller said: "McLaren's actions were conducted in such a covert way that it was an incredibly demanding investigation which took a considerable time to unpick the chain of events before that evidence could then be led in court.
"The prosecuting team were able to put in front of the jury compelling evidence and the story of a man who was calculated in his deception and showed no remorse for the victims of his deceit.''
The trial lasted so long as the court heard evidence for a number of days from each witness on topics such as conveyancing and accountancy.
Some witnesses were vulnerable and one woman was so ill that the court took evidence from her in her house via video link. Her living room was set up as a court, with a macer present to pass documents to her.
Only 12 jurors from the original 15 remained at the end of the case and at one stage there was a break of three weeks as one juror got married.
Concluding the trial, Lord Stewart - who postponed his retirement during proceedings - thanked everyone involved in such a "long and difficult case''.