A fake estate agent who made thousands out of phantom lettings on the Spareroom property website has finally been arrested - over a month after he was jailed.
James Bennett failed to turn up at Inner London Crown Court to face 17 counts of fraud in December. He was found guilty in his absence and jailed for six years.
Bennett, 32 and of no fixed abode, was finally tracked down and arrested on Friday (January 26). He appeared at the same court later that afternoon and was sentenced to a further month's improsonment to run consecutively for failing to appear at court.
Between late 2015 and December 2016, Bennett made numerous listings on the Spareroom.com website advertising rooms for rent at four separate properties in Brixton, Walworth, Elephant & Castle and Tooting - even though he had no right to rent the flats and was actually being evicted from them.
Nonetheless,Bennett obtained more than £10,000 by conning prospective tenants out of deposits. He claimed a total of 17 such deposits, worth up to £725 each, from people desperate to obtain accommodation.
Bennett made no attempt to hide his identity and gave tenancy agreements to each victim. He also willingly provided copies of his passport and other documents to prove his identity in order to dupe his victims who had all made reasonable attempts to ensure he was genuine.
Many of the victims only found they had been defrauded when they turned up on the agreed day to move in. This led to huge inconvenience for people who could ill-afford the loss of such a large sum of money, and in more than one case left the victim homeless. One victim had to spend Christmas in a hostel.
Bennett was arrested in November 2016 and initially denied the offences. When confronted with further evidence in May 2017, he made a full admission in interview.
He was charged with 17 offences but, despite his full admissions in interview, pleaded not guilty at Camberwell Green Magistrates' Court. Bennett then failed to appear for trial and was convicted in his absence.