Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland chef pretended mum was dead to con gay dating site man, court told

A Northern Ireland chef invented the costs of his still alive mother's funeral and loyalist paramilitary debts to con a man he met on a gay dating site out of up to £18,000, the High Court heard today.

Matthew Harvey also targeted a woman with learning difficulties as part of a wider campaign of forming sexual relationships and deceiving vulnerable victims, prosecutors said.

The 22-year-old, formerly of Ballyblack Road East in Newtownards, Co Down, "spun a series of yarns" to get others to take out a series of mobile phone contracts, a judge was told.

Harvey, described as a compulsive gambler who was arrested as he got off a flight back from Cuba earlier this year, is said to have admitted his offences.

Granting bail, Mr Justice Colton described his actions as "abhorrent and disgusting".

The defendant faces multiple counts of fraud by false representation, along with acquiring and converting criminal property, allegedly committed between October 2016 and February this year.

Crown lawyer David McClean said the man Harvey met though the dating site believed they were in a relationship.

The defendant initially scammed him out of hundreds of pounds to buy a new phone at Connswater Shopping Centre in east Belfast by claiming his card wasn't working, the court heard.

Over the next four weeks Harvey allegedly told the man that he needed:

  • £1,025 for a car.

  • £2,000 for the deposit on a flat and rental fees.

  • £1,550 for the costs of travelling to Germany.

  • £800 to repay a friend.

  • £610 for a dental bill.

  • £1,200 owed to catalogues.

  • £1,050 to pay his solicitor for unpaid fines.

  • £530 for money warrants.

  • £750 to replace safety wear.

  • £8,800 for the costs of his mother's funeral.

  • £50 to pay for family food at the mortuary.

  • Mr McClean told the court: "His mother, of course, is still alive and well and has attended a number of court appearances."

    He was also said to have falsely claimed there were outstanding debts to the UDA.

    Harvey is further accused of scamming a woman with autism and learning difficulties while staying with her in February.

    She described them as being in a "friends with benefits" relationship, the court heard.

    According to the prosecution he took her to a cash machine to lift money, and took out mobile phone contracts in her name online. Police are also due to question him in connection with suspected loans taken out by another woman who is dyslexic and cannot read or write. He is currently not charged with those offences.

    Mr McClean argued that that Harvey is a compulsive liar who preyed on both heterosexuals and gays as part of his "chaotic lifestyle".

    "He appears to target vulnerable individuals and enter into relationships, quite often of a sexual nature, and then con them out of money," the barrister added.

    The defendant even "spun a series of yarns" to a charity trying to help him, claiming he had a non-existent job as a chef at Bangor Golf Club.

    Defence counsel Conan Rea confirmed his client's "overall acceptance of culpability.

    "He's currently estranged from his family as a result of this offending," he said.

    Mr Rea insisted Harvey had previously worked as a chef and will be seeking employment in a bid to pay back what he owes.

    Based on the availability of hostel accommodation in Newry, Mr Justice Colton granted the application for release from custody.

    "Notwithstanding the abhorrent and disgusting offences he has committed by his own admissions, I will grant bail," the judge confirmed.

    He banned Harvey from contacting any victims and prohibited him from entering mobile phone shops.

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