The victim of a wedding fair scammer has spoken of the moment she arrived at Belfast Castle to discover she had handed over money for a fake event.
The Co Londonderry woman, who runs a part-time caricature business, said she was duped into paying for a stall at the non-existent wedding event where she had hoped to promote her artistic work.
The victim, who did not want to be identified, said she spotted an advert for the bogus wedding fair on Facebook and contacted its organiser, Magherafelt man Callum Townsend. Townsend replied with his bank account details and the businesswoman paid the conman £60 to secure a slot.
The 24-year-old fraudster - formerly known as Stuart Townsend - was yesterday convicted of ripping off more than a dozen businesses across Northern Ireland.
He was handed a four-month jail term, suspended for three years. The victim spoke of the moment she discovered the truth. "We had put in a lot of time and effort preparing for the stall and arrived early at Belfast Castle to set it up," she said.
"We drove up to the fair and straightaway the man at the gate said, 'Sorry, there's no fair here'.
"It was a waste of my time and money. I couldn't believe the cheek and how it was done so sneakily. He fooled us all.
"I should have known better and alarm bells should have started ringing when he told me I could have a cheaper deal - I should have smelled a rat then.
"I know there were other businesses who paid around £300 to attend the event. There were other people who also paid for an advertising piece in the magazine, which was an extra £100. I have been warning people about him ever since. He's still out walking about after conning people out of so much money.
"He literally conned us and I would never have expected someone to do that. I was really taken aback. We all put it down to experience, that we would learn from it."
Townsend, of Parkmore Road, Magherafelt, walked free from Ballymena Magistrates Court after being convicted of a litany of fraud charges.
The court was told the crook had set up an events company to run birthdays and bridal fairs and in 2013 said he had advertised a bridal fair.
He took money from a number of businesses in the run-up to the event, but it did not take place.
He appeared at court for sentencing on 15 charges of fraud by false representation.
The charges show he dishonestly made a false representation to two women that they would be a "unique sponsor" of the wedding fair and he provided misleading information to other businesses to secure funds. Townsend had also asked for £100 for advertisements which were never provided and also said he needed amounts of £100 to secure a place at the bridal fair. He also told one firm he would supply them with work in return for discounted IT services.
Victims included a wedding dress provider and a wedding cake artist and the charges related to dates in 2013 ahead of a planned wedding fair.
Defence barrister Michael Forde told court Townsend had provided a cheque for £1,380 as part of compensation.
The court heard the exact amount owed is £1,515 and Townsend was ordered to pay it back in full.
The prosecutor said: "This man started up an events planning business in Northern Ireland for birthdays and weddings. There are a large number of victims."
Defence counsel said his client was previously given a suspended sentence of five months, suspended for three years for similar offences by another judge.
District Judge Des Perry said everybody had been paid back what they were owed "bar the disappointment" involved.
Judge Perry told Townsend: "This was a dreadful series of events.
"The chances of you fulfilling the promises was nil."