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Fraudster bigamist’s web of lies is exposed

By Deborah McAleese

A bigamist exposed by the Belfast Telegraph can now be revealed as a serial fraudster who stole from his employers to pursue another woman with whom he was cheating on his ‘wife’.

John Thomas Cope was yesterday jailed for 18 months for stealing almost £2000, a car, a laptop and a mobile phone from his Co Down employer.

When he was caught running up debts on the company credit card Cope lied and said his wife had accidentally used the card while in Wales where she was undergoing treatment for cancer. Mrs Shirley Cope — who was unaware at the time that her ‘husband’ was still married to his second wife — was perfectly healthy and has never been in Wales.

At Newry Crown Court yesterday it was revealed that Cope has a history of similar frauds at companies he has worked for in Northern Ireland and across the UK. Judge Kevin Finnegan told Cope that he will leave jail penniless, as proceedings for the confiscation of assets are under way.

The 49-year-old — who was last year sentenced to five months in prison after admitting marrying Co Antrim woman Shirley Cope, nee Johnston, while still married to his second wife Leslie Ann Cope — supplied false references to obtain a job as sales and marketing manager for Radius Plastics in Banbridge in October 2007.

Over his few months in employment with the firm Cope ran up £1,845 on the company credit card, booking flights and ferries and dining in restaurants in Wales where he was cheating on his ‘wife’ Shirley Cope.

He walked out on Mrs Cope on Valentine’s Day last year to set up home in Wales with the woman he had been having a secret affair with.

The court heard that Mrs Shirley Cope told police she did not have cancer, she had not travelled to Wales and had not used the company credit card.

A short time later Cope left his ‘wife’ and their two children and fled the country, taking with him the company Saab car worth £25,000, a laptop worth £800 and a mobile phone.

Police found him at a hotel in Birmingham and the stolen car was later recovered in Luton airport with false registration plates.

The court was told that Cope — who has 37 previous offences for burglary, theft, fraud, deception and bigamy — committed a number of similar crimes against employers in Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK from 2006 and has admitted using false references to get jobs and running up debts on his employers’ credit cards.

The court heard that in July he was jailed at Magherafelt Magistrates’ Court for five months for fraudulently running up expenses at an engineering firm he had been working for and keeping their company car.

And before his serial cheating spree throughout 2006 and 2007 he had been jailed for three months by a court in Wolverhampton in 1993 for stealing from an employer.

“He has displayed a tendency for dishonest behaviour,” a prosecution barrister said yesterday.

Cope’s defence team told the court that throughout 2006 and 2007 he had “started out on a course of action which rapidly escalated and caught up on him”.

He said Cope panicked when he realised he had been caught out and fled the country with the car belonging to Radius Plastics.

“He has accepted his culpability and takes it squarely on the chin,” his barrister said.

He added: “This is a man who has the capacity to avoid offending behaviour ... and he is prepared to take his punishment.”

Jailing Cope for 18 months for four counts of theft and one count of providing false references, Judge Finnegan told him that everything he has built up during his time in Northern Ireland is “in likelihood going to be taken off you and you are likely to emerge from prison penniless”.

A confiscation hearing has been adjourned to next month.

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