A CONVICTED fraudster who has been on the run for two years is finally behind bars after he handed himself in at a police station.

James Birchall was jailed for four years in December 2018 after a solar panel scam conned unsuspecting victims out of their inheritances and pensions.

But he was convicted of the fraud and sentenced in his absence, having failed to appear at previous court hearings.

The 38-year-old – who carried out his crimes as director of Winwick Street-based Key Group – only gave himself up last week, when he walked into a police station in Brighton.

Birchall, of Villiers Crescent in St Helens, was brought before Liverpool Crown Court on Tuesday, October 20 – where he was handed an additional two months in prison.

Judge Garrett Byrne heard that the defendant had fled the north west in October 2018 as he was receiving threats over debts he owed and was ‘frightened’ to attend court.

He turned himself in as he had ‘had enough of looking over his shoulder’ and admitted breaching bail as he appeared via video link to HMP Lewes in Sussex.

Fellow company director and co-defendant Peter Haddley, formerly of Poplars Avenue in Orford, fled from the witness box while giving evidence to the six-week trial and was also handed four years in jail in his absence.

Warrington Guardian:

The 34-year-old, now of Huyton, eventually handed himself in last summer.

Their scam concerned two companies, both Key Group and Manchester-based Future Energy UK – Haddley being a director of both businesses.

A lengthy investigation by Warrington Borough Council found that a total of 14 victims were enticed into purchasing solar panels with the promise of payments from electricity suppliers when they generated renewable energy.

Sales staff advised consumers that they would be able to benefit from the government feed-in tariff when they were unable to claim these monies as the companies were not certified by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme.

The investigation also focussed on customers not being refunded deposits, providing them with fake MCS installation certificates, Birchall and Haddley making false statements on contracts that their companies were authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the fraudulent use of trade association logos.

Victims were conned out of inheritances and pensions, and took out loans to fund solar panel projects.

A family had been left unable to buy groceries or pay bills for their children’s activities, while one man had suffered health issues as a result of stress from the scam.

Another victim said that her dying husband was left worrying about how she would be able to afford loan repayments.

Dad Haddley – who also used the aliases of Peter Davis, Peter Martin and Peter Small – was found guilty of 14 counts of fraud, three charges of falsifying documents and two thefts.

Birchall, described as being the ‘money man’ having owned numerous properties and a letting agents, convicted of eight counts of fraud, one of falsifying documents and three of money laundering.

Sentencing in 2018, judge Alan Conrad said: “This was a prolonged and cynical fraud designed to target decent, trusting people.

“The defendants were both experienced businessmen, but documents were made in false names and pressure was applied to the multiple victims.

“I found Peter Haddley to be manipulative, argumentative and thoroughly dishonest.

“He absconded when things were getting tough for him in the witness box, and the jury saw through his lies.

“The thefts by him were mean and reprehensible – he blamed other people and denied being responsible for his actions.

“Each of them as directors consented to and connived to frauds rendering each of them to be completely unfit to be a company director, and the effect on their victims was clear.”