Kelly used ‘investment’ money to fund lavish lifestyle
Sarah Robertson had lived a charmed life growing up in a grand home in London’s exclusive Belgravia. But an encounter with Co Down conman Maurice Kelly left her penniless and facing homelessness.
Originally from Bangor, the conman moved to England after the break-up of his second marriage and reinvented himself as a property investor.
He was jailed on Friday for four years and 11 months for swindling Ms Robertson out of over £200,000, but that is thought to be the tip of the iceberg, with his victim’s mother, a former adviser to the UN Secretary General, losing somewhere between £1.2 to £1.4 million in phoney investments.
Patsy Robertson died in August 2020 aged 86.
Kelly had promised her vast returns on her investment — in reality the money was never invested but went to fund his lavish lifestyle, along with gifts for a string of much younger girlfriends.
These included paying for a pilot soap opera for one girlfriend who aspired to be an actress.
Sarah met Kelly through another relative who at first introduced the conman to her mother, a respected activist and Commonwealth diplomat.
Kelly had been accused of swindling Ms Robertson’s mother out of her life savings but the charge was ordered to lie on file.
The conman produced emails that raised questions about the original police complaint, and Mrs Robertson’s death meant Kelly escaped prosecution for the alleged spending of around £1.2m of her money.
She had invested her life savings in a group set up by Kelly called Tara Asset Management, having been convinced by the swindler that the investment would have huge returns.
Sarah said with hindsight she can see — that along with her mother — she was “groomed” into believing it was all above board.
“He was flash, he had a lifestyle that appeared to back up his claims that he was a successful investor,” she told the Belfast Telegraph.
“There was a web of sophisticated lies. Whether the money is all gone or whether some is hidden offshore, I still don’t know.”
The plot was so sophisticated he managed to convince the highly educated mother and daughter that there was no risk involved. Patsy Robertson was well known in London social circles and had the type of friends and acquaintances that Kelly aspired to mix with.
As a young woman she worked in a newspaper in Jamaica before attending university in New York, where she became friends with acclaimed author James Baldwin.
In the late 1950s she moved to London and started working for the BBC World Service, marrying her husband Calum Robertson.
But she was best known for her diplomatic work that started in the London office of the Federal Government of the West Indies ahead of the country receiving independence. She was a champion of press freedom and a campaigner against the apartheid regime in South Africa.
She was instrumental in changing attitudes in Britain to the segregated regime in South Africa, using her vast network of journalist friends to challenge the narrative being put across at the time.
Taking on then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her spokesman Bernard Ingham, she was said to have used her “charisma and intelligence” to challenge the official narrative around the treatment of black South Africans.
Patsy and later Sarah thought they were investing in shares in an asset management firm when in fact they were funding Kelly’s extravagant lifestyle.
Kelly duped the ambassador into handing over the money by pretending he would invest it on her behalf in ‘property schemes’ between August 2014 and September 2014.
Prosecutor Gareth Munday told Southwark Crown Court that “under the guise of an investment management company” he had swindled his victims.
“By the time Sarah Robertson came it was clearly a Ponzi-style pyramid scheme,” he said.
When Ms Robertson started to get suspicious and continuously chased Kelly for investment returns, she received £28,000 of her money back.
“She was told when she was given money that it demonstrated the success of the business, but what was given back to her was part of her original capital investment,” the court heard.
Ms Robertson told this newspaper she believes that the swindler was using insider language he had learned about high end investments from an ex-partner who owned a property management company in Northern Ireland to convince his victims that it was his “area of expertise”.
On one occasion Ms Robertson travelled to Portugal with Kelly and one of his younger, glamorous girlfriends to look at potential investments.
She added: “I realise now he’d an arrangement with a local property company who were letting him have the keys to these luxury apartments to show them to potential buyers.
“It was all a con.”
She was convinced to invest in the properties but in reality, they were never Kelly’s to sell.
“I lost everything, I lost my London home, I’ve rebuilt my life but I’ll never get back on the London property ladder,” she added.
Using Ms Robertson’s and other investors’ money, Kelly bought a £50,000 sports car, a £60,000 Land Rover and even helped buy his friend a car with another £50,000.
Tara Assets Management was registered to an address in one of London’s most exclusive postcodes.
The St James Square offices in London’s Mayfair appeared to back up Kelly’s claim that he was a successful investor — the truth was that he had been paying rent from his victims’ assets.
The swindler spent more than £4,000 on one girlfriend’s 30th birthday and he supported another girlfriend’s acting career by spending £26,000 on her TV pilot.
On one occasion he even spent £130,000 to cover a confiscation order for a drug conviction in Brighton Crown Court.
He also spent £80,000 on rent for his flat.
Kelly was registered as the director of a number of companies, all now dissolved, using a number of different dates of birth. He also was once the director of a Bangor-based company called The Finance Doctors that was dissolved in October 2010.
In sentencing the Bangor conman, Judge Martin Griffiths said: “You obtained those amounts from Sarah Robertson for the purpose of purchasing shares in a company, but you never did.
“Moving on from scheme to scheme, you took her to Portugal to look at properties when the whole edifice came to nothing, there was nothing.
“She had a London flat, she now can’t afford it. She has been taken away from where she wants to live. Her situation is precarious in the extreme and this has had a serious detrimental effect.
“I’m not surprised you are taking anti-depressants coming to terms with the harm you caused her. You painted a completely false picture of the situation”, he added.
Kelly, now with an address in Schofield Street, Manchester, was sentenced to four years and 11 months at Southwark Crown Court for two counts of fraud.
He is also disqualified from being a company director for six years.
Ms Robertson said she is continuing to fight for justice through the insolvency service.
She added: “My mum was super bright, she got a scholarship aged 17 to New York University. She was this amazing woman, a Jamaican woman coming here at that time and achieving all she had, and I feel like he’s just sullied that memory of her.
“I will continue to fight for justice. Never mind me, but what about our mother? She deserved better.
“I may or may not get back some money, but I would just like to know what happened.
“I have rebuilt my life to a certain degree. I had lost everything, but I don’t feel like a victim now, I feel like a survivor and I can hold my head up high.”
Were you a victim of Maurice Kelly? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org