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FACE THE FACTS
Fraud in France
Presenter: John Waite
TRANSMISSION: Thursday 14th January 2010 1230-1300 BBC RADIO 4
The River Dordogne. For this week's Face the Facts we've travelled to this region of
Southwest France, famous for its gorges and black forested hills, its foie gras and its
truffles, which is also a magnet for British ex-pats; many of them were enjoying their
retirement years here until another ex-patriot from England settled amongst them.
Confident man. Very presentable, very knowledgeable about finance.
Oh very charming, of course. He was well mannered, being well dressed, he was
very, very pleasant and not pushy at all.
He was extremely attractive, very pleasant to look at, handsome young man.
He was a man of style actually, you've got to hand that to him.
But though they didn't know it, behind the charming façade was a ruthless con-man.
And that dashing style was, ironically, being paid for by their own life savings, which
Graham Templeton systematically stole to indulge his taste for luxury cars, expensive
yachts and beautiful women. He lived in a six bedroom, six bathroom chateau just
outside a village called Le Coux et Bigaroque near Bergerac, a far cry from his
humble beginnings as a butcher from Kent, and when he was plain Graham Briggs.
Indeed as we'll discover, the journey from Graham Briggs to Graham Templeton is
strewn with people who've fallen for his charm and parted with their money. A
charmed life indeed when even though he's recently been given a prison sentence, he's
so far escaped serving it.
But our story starts not in southern France, but 25 years ago in southern England
when Graham Briggs arrived on the Isle of Wight, offering to invest money for local
people like this lady whom the BBC interviewed in 2005.
I had a very nice bungalow and I've now just got a little one bedroomed flat. But at
that time I was just thankful to finish up with a roof over my head. I used to say to
my little dog we're going to end up at Carisbrooke Castle under the arches wrapped in
By the early '90s, when he was 37, the financial "advisor" had become Isle of Wight
entrepreneur, appearing on BBC South TV to show off his new venture selling bottled
spring water from Ventnor.
The water is of very little age, it's only four months old and know when people talk of
four months old people think god, four month old water, I wouldn't fancy drinking it
but that's actually on the move, it's actually flowing through rocks and little fissures in
the ground and being purified all the way through. The good thing is it is being
purified and not actually picking up bad minerals.
Five local investors put their faith, and their funds, in the Ventnor Spring and Mineral
Company in the summer of 1991. Only to see it all evaporate some 12 months later.
We invested a total of about £250,000 of which around possibly £100,000 will have
gone to Mr Briggs. Naturally nothing Mr Briggs received is ever recovered.
But that wasn't the last the islanders were to hear of Mr Briggs and his many faces
because three years later, in 1995, the Isle of Wight County Press ran the headline
"Former Isle of Wight Estate Agent Jailed for £55,000"
"Graham Charles Briggs 40 of Orpington, Kent was jailed for 14 months at the
Crown Court for illegal dealings with a London-based Japanese catering
Briggs told police at the time, the article said, that he had moved to the Isle of Wight
in 1986, and earned a good living from commercial property development. His
children had all been privately educated, he said. But then his marriage had broken up
in 1991 and he was made bankrupt. By the time of the dealings which landed him in
prison Briggs was on to his second wife who, the paper reported, was planning to end
that marriage. Briggs was sentenced in January 1995 but by June 1996, he was back
in the headlines. This time the News of the World.
News of the World clip
"Concorde Conman. Phoney Flyer married girl then took off"
"Jilted Julie Briggs told last night how a cruel conman posing as a Concorde
pilot swept her off her feet and took flight with £28,000 of her cash"
It went on
News of the World clip
"Wily Briggs wooed the former air stewardess by convincing her he owned a
luxury yacht. It turned out the professional trickster is wanted by Spanish
police for a string of scams"
And with ominous foresight his third wife Julie Briggs was quoted as saying:
Julie Briggs quote
He's a total rat who must be exposed before he cons someone else
And it was in France in 1998 that Graham Briggs did find that "someone else".
Several, in fact. When he arrived in the Dordogne, he was now calling himself
Graham Templeton, and describing himself as a "financial advisor". He apparently
discovered one of his first victims, Elizabeth Dickinson, by trawling through the
phone book looking for English sounding names and with nice sounding addresses.
And Mrs Dickinson's was Chateau le Monteil. A widow, she was in fact a former
American opera singer, who still gave occasional concerts in the area. But she was
She was in her mid-80s and she had nobody else in the world, she was a widow, no
family of any kind. And she'd clearly made Graham Templeton the son she'd never
That's Ann Jervis - a friend of Elizabeth Dickinson in her last years - she died in
September 2008 - when Mr Templeton was not only parting the former opera singer
from her savings - but tried to ensure that on her death, he'd inherit the lot.
She kept saying - Graham Templeton, he's set up a trust - we realised that Templeton
was not any administrator of a trust or a trustee, he was the sole heir - the legataire
So he'd made himself the sole heir?
Her French was not very good, he must have dictated to her what she had to write. In
France you write a handwritten will and it was her will in her handwriting. He had
told her that the words legataire universale meant executor, of course he knew that
they meant sole heir. She was horrified and shocked. As soon she was able she made
the will in favour of her neighbour, as she wanted, in plenty of time before she died.
What did she say about Mr Templeton that made him so persuasive?
He was very charming, he was probably quite good looking, he certainly believes
himself to be very good looking, he claims that he looks like Hugh Grant. He had that
talent - charisma.
Indeed I have a copy of Elizabeth Dickinson's original will here in front of me and it
does indeed name Warren Templeton - Warren being another name Graham Briggs or
Graham Templeton adopted as her sole heir or - "legataire universale".
Thankfully as Ann Jervis explained, Mrs Dickinson had time to write a new will
before she died. However, she could do nothing to retrieve the £170,000 which Mr
Templeton had promised to "invest" for her but which simply disappeared.
And Mrs Dickinson was not alone in that.
This is the hamlet of Savignac de Miremont, it's a little commune here, tiny little
village and here on the left hand side as I walk up the little main street is a beautiful
16th Century stone house that used to be the home of Joy and Steve Coleman. They
now have a new home, it's just across the way, just down this track in fact. It's a
[Knocking on door]
Hello Steve. John Waite Radio 4.
Throughout the 1980's and 1990's Steve and Joy Coleman took regular holidays in the
Dordogne. And in 2001, they decided to move there permanently, to enjoy a peaceful
retirement in the new home they'd bought.
That was a 300 year old stone house that Steve had renovated. We'd worked really
hard on it because that was - nothing had been done in it for years and years. And we
got it up to quite a nice standard and it was very roomy, warm and comfortable, very
comfortable. And it was so different from this.
"This" being the tiny caravan - with its 10 square foot of lounge space -loaned by their
neighbours and parked in their garden. Not the comfortable retirement they'd planned
- but then they hadn't factored in Mr. Templeton.
A year before moving to France mutual friends had introduced the Colemans to Mr
Templeton. He came with good credentials, it seemed, so the couple allowed him to
invest £200,000 for them in a bond with the company Skandia, and a further £60,000
with Scottish Provident. The charming Mr Templeton had by this time become a
friend, a regular visitor to their home, and a guest at their wedding in the autumn of
2001. Just a few weeks before the ceremony in fact, the Colemans had decided to
invest yet more money, on the advice of Mr Templeton, in a new five year bond.
This one was guaranteed by the French bank Societe General and the brochure
seemed highly reassuring.
Societe General brochure
"Swan 2006 Expansion Sterling
This issue enables institutional investors to benefit from alternative strategy
yields through a bond issue with a capital guarantee"
At worst, and if there were no dividend, the brochure made clear that any capital
invested would be returned. Though at best, Mr Templeton assured the Colemans, the
bond could generate up to 15% interest over the five years. So, over the course of a
year, the couple wrote him a series of large cheques.
We gave him to invest for us £450,000. We had accumulated that from two houses
that we sold and it was our pension for when we needed it.
For three years Templeton posted the couple regular updates on how the Swan 2006
bond was faring and sent monthly interest. All seemed well, and Joy and Steve
Coleman trusted their dashing financial advisor. Until..
Christmas 2004. We were receiving a - supposedly an income from him which hadn't
turned up, so we rang him up and tried to find out about it and he arranged - managed
to meet us in England. And when we got there he didn't show up, he wouldn't answer
the telephone and then when we got back here we'd found he'd gone, he'd just
What was your reaction when you realised he'd gone and so too probably had the
Devastating. We'd worked so hard together to accumulate this money. We were
What Templeton had done was simply exploit a weakness in French banking
procedure - something that has been tightened up in the UK, but not so far across the
The Colemans made out their cheques - for up to 155,000 euros - to French banks. In
six cases, to Societe Generale, and in three more to Credit Agricole. When Templeton
paid them in, by simply signing his own name on the back, they were deposited into
his own personal accounts at those banks. Credit Agricole did become suspicious that
such large amounts were being transferred. And closed Templeton's existing account,
and told him he needed to open a business account. But Societe Generale didn't raise
an eyebrow, and so the Coleman's money was siphoned off to pay for Templeton's
luxury lifestyle which had given his clients the impression of a successful financial
advisor, which is why they'd done business with him in the first place.
Britain's banks took action to stop this sort of thing happening in 2006. Sandra Quinn
is from The Payments Council which is responsible for bank payments including
Three or four years ago you used to be able to write out a cheque to a building
society, whoever you're paying money into, and you wouldn't need to put anymore
details in than say Nationwide Building Society. It could go to any account therefore
in Nationwide Building Society. The FSA was very concerned about the fraud risk
there and so were the banking industry. So we worked together with the other
associations and put some guidelines in place to ensure that customers needed to put
in further information on that cheque. So if you're writing it to Nationwide Building
Society reference your own account number or your name, that gives that cheque
Obre through translator
It's not illegal, you can credit a bank account with a cheque written to the name of the
That's Jean Claude Obre, a former director of a large French bank.
Obre through translator
It's a weakness of the French banking system. The bank has an obligation to declare
any suspicions about its clients and any money which may have a criminal origin.
Criminal covers money laundering and the finance of terrorism. Only at the
beginning of 2009 was fiscal fraud added.
Which explains why Graham Templeton was able to wreak his unique and charming
brand of financial havoc in the Dordogne so easily.
This is the town square of Saint Cyprien, a favoured haunt of Mr Templeton, his bar,
in fact, is just across the road there where he could be seen most weekends holding
court. You could tell that he was here, say the locals, because one of his stable of
seven cars would be parked on the main street here. Would it be the white E Type,
maybe it was the Mercedes Benz or no it could be the Aston Martin. There he'd be
every Sunday in the bar buying people drinks and extending his largesse and trying to
win ever more customers.
Well he was tall, fairly elegant, well dressed, well spoken, generally polite. He
originally did something for me - I had a big investment in the insurance company
which went bust.
Bill Sarginson is 87, and far from being in the best of health. He, and his 84-year-old
wife Joan, live in le Buisson de Cadeuin on the banks of the River Dordogne. Bill's a
former ICI chemist, who was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2002, and, as a
consequence, wanted to rearrange his financial investments to ensure that his wife
would be financially secure after his death. Unfortunately it was to a near neighbour
that the couple turned for financial advice - Graham Templeton.
When I told him I wanted to withdraw from Equitable life he said: "Oh don't, wait a
minute, I've got some renunciation forms". So I did that and he helped me fill in the
forms and actually took the forms to the post office.
Having advised the Sarginsons to withdraw the savings they had with Equitable Life,
Templeton wasted no time in suggesting an alternative investment - that same Societe
General backed Swan Fund which he'd recommended to the Colemans. Like the
Colemans, too, the Sarginsons gave Templeton cheques made out simply to Societe
Generale - £100,000 in their case. And again like the Colemans the money never went
into the fund but into Templeton's personal Societe General account. Now Mrs
Sarginson's financial future is far less certain, and the couple have been forced to sell
their old house for a two bedroomed bungalow.
I think he's the dregs, he's a man who's unprincipled, unfeeling, extremely cruel.
This money was being invested for me when Bill died, you see, and we were just
worried as to what was going to happen to me with no money, living in France and
what was I going to live on, this was it. So it was - well it was devastating, we didn't
quite know what was - what was going to happen.
Well it's disastrous. My pension from employment is minute.
I'm watching pennies like I don't know what and it's just the normal sort of life that
we used to lead and wished we still had and haven't.
Not far from the Sarginsons' home lives Jerry Shiveley, a Harvard Business school
graduate and retired director of Johnson Wax Europe. He, too, was very taken with
Templeton, and handed over half a million pounds via a series of cheques made out to
Societe Generale. Again they were intended for that Swan Fund 2006. Again the
payments never reached the fund. Ironically, Mr Shively told me - Mr Templeton had
bought a vintage Mercedes convertible from him, to add to the conman's stable of
expensive cars. With, it turned out, some of the very money that Mr Shiveley had
given him to invest . If only he'd listened to his wife.
I get very emotional and horror, belief and intense anger at Jerry because I thought I'd
tried to warn him but he's a Harvard Business School graduate, he's the smart boy, he
did so well in business, he knows best. I could have killed him.
Before handing over these enormous sums of money didn't you make any checks on
Not sufficient. What I did was to ask people that he'd already had made investments
for about him and did they seem to be okay and that passed muster. He had business
cards printed out and I spoke to a couple of people that were associates of his. But I
would say, to be perfectly honest, I did very inadequate checks on him.
But then did Societe Generale do adequate checks on all those substantial comings
and goings through Graham Templeton's personal account? Ann Jervis was so
angered by the fraudster's attempt to con her friend Elizabeth Dickinson into making
him her sole heir, that's she's now leading a legal action to win compensation for the
dozen of her neighbours in the Dordogne who lost nearly £2 million pounds to
Templeton. And she's adamant that Societe Generale cannot wash its hands of the
Societe Generale allowed Templeton to open a personal current account and then for a
period, not of weeks or months but years and years, they allowed him to operate these
accounts when - because I've seen them - the merest glance at the bank statements
would show you that this is no ordinary personal current account. In so many
transactions for huge sums - hundreds of thousands of euros - this wasn't a personal
bank account and the bank, if they'd even been half awake would have noticed.
We did ask Societe Generale for an interview but they declined - instead sending us a
Societe Generale statement
Graham Templeton has never worked for Societe Generale in any capacity.
Societe Generale took legal action against Graham Templeton for forgery and
fraud. Our claims were accepted during the criminal case. Under French
banking regulations making a cheque out to a bank is authorised. Processing
those cheques requires precautionary measures and our procedures
incorporated this practice and necessary verifications. On several occasions
we questioned Graham Templeton regarding certain transactions and his
explanations did not arouse further suspicions.
The daily volume of cheques being processed means the verification
procedure in place under French banking regulation is not always sufficient to
stop a determined fraudster.
And Societe Generale says stopping the practice of countersigning cheques on the
back is a matter for the French banking authorities, not individual institutions. Until
that happens money can still end up in an account it wasn't intended for, as journalist
Paul McNally, from the French newspaper Connexion, found recently when as a
result of publicity about Templeton he tested the system himself.
My editor wrote a cheque made payable to the Societe Generale for 5,000 euros, she
signed it, as you would with any cheque, she gave it to me to pay into my personal
bank account. I go to my local branch of the Societe Generale with the cheque, I'm
asked to sign the back of it, which is normal in France, and it was processed without
Straight into your account?
Straight into my personal account. There were no questions asked.
So what of Graham Briggs, aka Graham Templeton, aka. Warren Templeton - the
career conman who's turned up over the years as everything from estate agent to
entrepreneur, Concorde pilot to financial advisor, and butcher to bottled water
tycoon? Well we have discovered that he's back in England. He took a job in Welling
in Kent with the window firm Anglian but lasted only 11 days because he failed to
declare his criminal record. We did want to offer him yet another role - as radio
interviewee, but sadly, it's one he turned down.
At first, he was eager to set the record straight, he said. Although he dismissed his
critics in the Isle of Wight, he would come to Broadcasting House, to say how he
wanted to pay his French victims back. How his chateau and his yacht were "his
obsession" and so he'd spent a fortune on them, but when they'd been sold, the money
had been taken by the French in unpaid taxes. Nobody ever asked questions, he told
us, not the investors, or Societe Generale. "I'm not saying I didn't exploit it, but there
was a massive bank error". But although Mr Templeton made two definite
appointments to come to Broadcasting House, we waited in vain. The first time he
blamed bad weather, the second personal problems. Eventually, we received a letter
from his solicitor.
Mr Templeton will not be attending the interview or providing a response to
your questions as he has been advised not to do so. This is not a refusal on his
part, but he cannot comment on matters which may subsequently be brought
before the court.
But it's not true that Templeton's escaped French justice altogether. In June last year a
court in Bordeaux sentenced him to two years in prison for the fraud he committed.
He was also ordered to pay 800 euros to each of his victims.
But the story doesn't even end there. He hasn't paid the compensation and he hasn't
served the prison sentence.
It does make a mockery of justice. The fact that he can go about, he can go wherever
he likes, he can do whatever he likes.
Because of overcrowding in French prisons, for what are deemed less serious cases,
offenders wait to be "called" to serve their sentence. And Templeton is now one of
some 80,000 offenders in France waiting for that call. Around a fifth of whom won't
end up going to jail anyway. Not the best denouement, then, for all those victims of
his who've chosen to make their homes across the channel.
The French justice system which has taken four years or more now to actually bring
this guy to justice and then finally convict him and then he'll probably never go to jail
that beggars belief in our mind.
I just find that very difficult to accept that we are the victims of what he's done and he
has some money that is stolen to use, he's swanning around enjoying life, now where
is the justice in this?
And that's it for this week's edition of Face the Facts. Next week the company fined
just £2 after the death of one of its workers reveals serious safety lapses. How health
and safety investigations are undermined when companies call in the administrators.