The victim of a shameless extortionist who conned her out of more than £35,000 after meeting him on a dating website says he ruined her life.
Peter Berry, 51, befriended his victims through online dating sites before persuading them to pump cash into fake business investments.
He was jailed for conning women out of thousands of pounds and is now behind bars again after duping three more women in an online scam.
A court heard he went on to spend the cash on sporting equipment, underwater cameras and a personalised registration plate bearing the number 666.
Peter Berry has been jailed for eight years after conning women out of cash in a romance scam. After he was released from prison for the case tried in 2010, he was spotted by police sporting a beard and faking an eastern European accent
Now, one his victims has revealed the full extent of his cruel manipulations.
Joanne Clifford, 46, from Swindon, was scammed out of £30,000 after meeting Berry on the matchmaking website Plenty of Fish in November 2012.
As a result she was forced to sell her home and her beloved horse, leaving her life in ruins.
She claims she now struggles to trust people, fearing they will try and con her like Berry did.
She said: ‘He’s a monster for what he did to me.’
Joanne Clifford offered Berry money when he claimed there was ‘a cock up at work and that he was in trouble and needed £200,000’
Speaking to The Sun, she said: ‘He looks just like Shrek – the only difference is that he isn’t green. I can’t believe I was sucked in by this snake.’
She said that unlike other men she chatted to on the dating site, he was not ‘sleazy’ – although she admitted she was taken aback by his ‘fat and ugly’ looks after agreeing to meet.
She added: ‘I liked him as a person – I didn’t feel threatened [by him]. He wasn’t a predator, he was playing the long game.’
He embarked on his latest crime spree after he was released early from a five-year jail term, which he was given in 2010 for 19 fraud offences.
Following that conviction, one of his victims – Sara Terry – compared him to Shrek.
She said she fell for his ‘warm eyes’ but added: ‘He was 6ft 2in, weighed about 20 stone and looked like the cartoon character Shrek.’
After serving just two years he was released on licence and quickly started where he had left off, fleecing three more women between October 2012 and October 2013.
Berry was spotted in a London bar sporting a thick beard and talking in an Eastern European accent after police appealed for information on him in 2014.
Detectives believe he may have swindled up to £2million from more than 100 women during his career of crime after targets included a lawyer, GP and a fund manager, with one investigator saying Berry ‘had a PhD in deception’.
Berry, a yachtsman, set a new world record in May 2001, skippering the Netergy.com trimaran from Plymouth to La Rochelle 10 hours faster than anyone before him
As Berry was jailed for eight years, it emerged that:
- Berry posed as a Harvard graduate with a PhD in physics to con lab technician Kate Peel
- He duped women to plunge thousands into fake business investment opportunities
- The fraudster was freed early from a five-year jail term for similar offences – only to promptly start conning fresh targets
- Detectives fear the fraudster may have conned as much as £2million from more than 100 female victims
- The yachtsman set a new world record in May 2001, skippering the Netergy.com trimaran from Plymouth to La Rochelle 10 hours faster than anyone before him – only to smash his own record the following year
Berry also persuaded victims to lend him money through extravagant lies including needing to help friends trapped in the Himalayas and conned one woman out of £1,000 after claiming he needed to raise £50,000 to build ski chalets.
He blew almost £12,000 on Barclaycard and Morgan Stanley credit cards after applying for them in the name of his elderly mother, Elizabeth Berry.
One victim, Kate Peel (left), gave Berry the benefit of the doubt and stayed in touch until November 2013 when she was approached by Sussex Police. Joanne Clifford (right) was sympathetic when Berry approached her about money problems during the scam
Christine Gearing was fleeced out of £15,000 after moving to a flat in East Preston, Sussex
He was finally found by police living at a house with a wife in the New Forest in October 2015 – and she knew the crook as ‘Jonathan Jones’, jurors heard.
Berry was then returned to jail to serve out the remainder of his five year sentence.
His latest trial heard how he posed as a successful businessman, kayaker and Harvard University graduate to ensnare his latest victims following his release from jail in 2012.
The Cornwall-born conman, who claimed he had to live in a tent after he was let out of prison, insisted the three women had all agreed to lend him cash.
Berry’s latest ploy was to try and get his case moved from Inner London Crown Court down to Lewes Crown Court after complaining about the poor air quality in the capital.
He claimed he suffers from ‘acute brittle asthma’ which means the London air quality can cause him to fall sleep.
String of deceptions Berry used to con his vulnerable victims out of thousands
Berry posed as a Harvard graduate called Jason Smith to win the trust of con lab technician Kate Peel before she sank £18,000 into his fake investment scheme.
He also used aliases Dr James Smith, Taz Keady and Jonathon Jasper John.
Berry told Joanne Clifford he had a doctorate in engineering and was designing a prototype for wind turbines before conning her out of £30,000.
Her cash was deposited into a bank account bearing the name John Keady, another alias Berry used having changed his name by deed poll.
He told neighbour Christine Gearing he was in a ‘consortium of peer funding’ before conning her out of £15,000 after pressuring her to invest.
Berry wanted the trial moved to Sussex ‘where the bracing South Downs air would keep him more alert’ but the judge rejected his application.
He denied but was convicted of seven counts of fraud by false representation after a four-day trial.
Jailing him for eight years the judge, Mr Recorder Julian Malins, QC, said: ‘You have been convicted by a jury of seven counts of fraud on overwhelming evidence which without any great surprise satisfied so that they were sure that you are a confidence trickster and a crook.
‘You have pleaded not guilty and told a pack of lies in the witness box.
‘In the first case you were, on the 18 May 2010, on your own plea of guilty at Truro Crown Court sentenced to a period of imprisonment for no fewer than 19 dishonesty offences.
‘Those offences took place between May 2004 and October 2009 which is over a sustained period and involved large sums of money.
‘Within no time at all you are preying on women for the purposes of extracting money from them.
‘I saw the witnesses, heard what they had to say.
‘Each of these victims and they were very gutsy to come and give evidence, particularly the first one in light of what she had to say about you.
‘There was a serious detrimental effect on them and a financial one because they had lost so much money, and particularly so their view of life and how they had been made fools of in being defrauded.’
Berry used a series of aliases including Jay Smith, Dr James Smith, Taz Keady and Jonathon Jasper John, in his charades.
‘He is a confidence trickster,’ said Elizabeth Lowe, prosecuting.
Berry was dubbed ‘Shrek’ after he was jailed for conning victims in 2010 and would swiftly hone in on new women when he was released early
‘He creates over a period of time a credible story founded on no evidence at all.
‘He encourages them to hand over money, he reassures them repeatedly they will their money back or they will get a great return.
‘He goes by a number of different names to the different women.’
The convicted fraudster scammed Joanne Clifford out of £30,000 after meeting her on the matchmaking website Plenty of Fish in November 2012.
‘This defendant was using the user name of Waterboy. He made contact with her using that dating website. Over a number of days they messaged each other followed by phone calls and text messages.
‘They just met in Arundel in the middle of October. The defendant introduced himself as James Smith.
‘He says he has a doctorate in engineering. He says he is building and designing a prototype for wind turbines.
Peter Berry posed as a Harvard graduate in just one of his deceptions as he conned victims out of thousands when he was released from prison
‘He said he sold his BMW to fund the project and tells her to keep the details secret.
‘Towards the end of October he telephoned her sounding stressed.
‘He claimed there was a cock-up at work and that he was in trouble and needed £200,000. He said he was struggling with the last £50,000.
‘Ms Clifford was so convinced that she offered him money.
‘He initially said no. The crown say that’s an aspect of his tricks.
‘He builds up confidence then went on to persuade her it was a smart investment.
‘She ultimately handed over £20,000 in two tranches, on 24 and 25 October.
‘The bank account is in the name of John Keady, which this defendant also goes by.
‘They later spent a night away at a pub in Chislehurst, he gets her to pay for that night away. The next day they travel up to London and spend the day together.’
Ms Lowe said they went shopping in Covent Garden and he bought something at the Apple Store, then purchased a pair of sunglasses at another shop.
‘On 12 November the defendant phoned up sounding stressed and suggesting he was struggling financial.
‘She adds another £5,000 to what she has already supplied for his investment.
‘A couple of weeks later on 29 November a further £10,000 goes from Joanne Clifford to the defendant after he told her he was going to have to lay off an employee and she asks what she could do to help.’
Ms Clifford contacted Berry a number of times and asked for her money back. She then discovered the ‘con’ when she was contacted by Sussex Police.
Lab technician Kate Peel met Berry through a kayaking club in November 2012 and knew him as Jason Smith, the court heard.
Left to right: Laura Hudson, Sara Terry and Mabel Arnill were targeted by Berry in a previous case
‘After a couple more kayaking trips they began a romantic relationship,’ said the prosecutor.
‘She lives in London and she describes she had money she had inherited from an ex-partner who had sadly passed away.
‘He told her he was a business consultant. He says he has a business opportunity in IT in Europe.
‘He required commitment to this investment by the weekend.
‘He would personally guarantee this investment and she would get back a 20 per cent return.
‘She transferred into the Barclays account £15,000.
‘He then says to her ‘I just need a bit of extra money for my share of investment, can you please lend me £3,000.
‘On 5 February she’s in fact informed that this defendant is a convicted fraudster and she confronts him about that.
‘They meet up at a train station and she asks for his explanation. He reassures her he gave her a version of events. He said the money was safe.’
Ms Peel gave Berry the benefit of the doubt and stayed in touch until November 2013, when she was approached by Sussex Police.
‘She never got her money back,’ said Ms Lowe.
Berry then fleeced neighbour Christine Gearing out of £15,000 after moving to a flat in East Preston, Sussex.
They started up a friendship and Berry said he was ‘in a consortium of peer funding’ where members could invest in a short term high interest loan.
Ms Gearing was invited to join and transferred £10,000 to Berry on 3 July, jurors heard.
‘In September he again asked for money from her in another deal of around £5,000 to £15,000’ said Ms Lowe.
‘He said to her he was in financial trouble. She wisely didn’t give him anymore. She was contacted by police in November 2013,’ she added.
Detectives would later find designer clothing, sporting equipment, underwater cameras, satnavs and a Volkswagen van with the personalised number plate ‘K666 YAK’ at Berry’s flat, all of which were seized in the fraud investigation.
Detectives have recently appealed for any more potential victims to come forward but believe women may be ‘too embarrassed’ to come forward.
Berry, of Brockenhurst, Hampshire, denied seven counts of fraud by false representation.
As a yachtsman he set a new world record in May 2001, skippering the Netergy.com trimaran from Plymouth to La Rochelle, in France, 10 hours faster than anyone before him.
A year later, he helped smash his own record by sailing the route with the late American adventurer Steve Fossett on the entrepreneur’s £8million PlayStation maxi-catamaran – the record still stands.
Equestrian was conned out of cash in business investment scam after fraudster who she met on Plenty of Fish claimed he had a doctorate in engineering and was building a wind turbines prototype
Joanne Clifford was one of the women who Berry targeted in the £70,000 fraud in which he used online dating sites to get close to victims
Horse-owner Joanne Clifford met Berry on Plenty of Fish in October 2012 and was the first of his victims in this year’s case.
Ms Clifford, from Swindon, says he called himself ‘James Smith’ also known as ‘Jay’.
They arranged to meet at a pub, when she found Berry ‘didn’t look like the photos he had posted online’.
Berry told her he had a doctorate in engineering and was building a prototype for wind turbines.
Later that month he telephoned Ms Clifford ‘sounding stressed’ and said he was struggling to raise the last £50,000 of a £200,000 business investment.
He initially refused money from her but then persuade her it would be a smart investment.
Bank statements show money was transferred to Berry’s Barclays account, then in the name of John Keady, a name he had changed to by deed poll.
The pair spent a night together at a pub in Chiselhurst, which Ms Clifford paid for understanding Berry would ‘pay next time’.
On November 12 Berry told Ms Clifford and said he was struggling financially and she added another £5,000 to her investment.
She later transferred £10,000 when Berry said he was going to have to lay off a member of staff.
The romance ended but Ms Clifford continued to stay in contact with Berry, seeking reassurance her investment would pay off, or that she would get her money back.
Ms Clifford said in November 2013 she received a letter from Sussex Police regarding the transfer of large sums of money into the defendant’s account.
Joanne Clifford is pictured leaving court after she was conned out of thousands by Peter Berry
She sent text messages and was eventually called by Berry who said he had simply ‘done something a bit naughty’ with transferring money between accounts.
She said she has not spoken to Berry since the last phone conversation in November 2013.
Scientist was swindled out of thousands of pounds after meeting serial fraudster on kayaking holiday when he claimed he had a PhD in physics
Lab technician Kate Peel from south London, has a doctorate in environmental science and met Berry on a kayaking holiday in November 2012.
Berry introduced himself as Jason Smith, also known as Jay, claiming to be a business consultant with a PhD in physics from Harvard.
On the next kayaking trip, the two discovered they were booked onto the same course on 18 November.
Kate Peel from Tooting, South London was targeted by Berry after they met on holiday in 2012
Berry told Miss Peel he had already organised a hotel to stay at the night before, and invited her to stay with him there.
They began a romantic relationship and Miss Peel told Berry she had inherited around £20,000 from a dead boyfriend.
Miss Peel said Berry lived in a large rented house in Felpham, West Sussex. She said that after a few months the pair started to ‘grow further apart’.
While Miss Peel was away doing field work in Norfolk, she got a phone call from Berry, who told her he had a business opportunity in IT in Europe. He told her he would personally guarantee her money back plus a 20 per cent return.
Miss Peel said although she was aware Berry was a consultant on a renewable energy project, this was not what she believed she was investing her money into.
She transferred £15,000 into the Barclays account, but was then asked if she could loan Berry £3,000 for his share of the investment. She believed he would pay back the money in six weeks.
He said he told her that it would be ‘the more the better’ to invest in the company.
‘He gave the impression it was just a cash flow problem’, Miss Peel told jurors.
‘In February, a friend told Miss Peel she recognised Berry and on 5 February he was confronted by the victim.
They met up at a train station and he told her the money was ‘safe’.
Miss Peel said: ‘A friend of mine had recognised him from a different kayaking club from a Portsmouth. I spoke to him within a day or two afterwards. I didn’t want to tell my friends they were worried about me as it was. I didn’t want to tell them at that point.
‘He was very apologetic, very quiet. He said that he thought it was in the past and hat he was trying to make amends. He said he had changed.
‘He assured me that that was still genuine that the business opportunity was still genuine and I would get the £3,000 very shortly and I would get the rest within a year.’
Miss Peel gave Berry the benefit of the doubt and stayed in touch until November 2013. On 7 November he tells her he is on a job delivering a yacht but is in a ‘bad place mentally’.
She lost contact with him and goes to the police to report that he may be missing. She was then informed by Sussex Police he is being investigated for fraud.
Neighbour pressured into handing over cash as part of ‘investment deal’ after conman helped her with ‘odd jobs’ around her home
The third victim in this year’s case was Christine Gearing, a neighbour of Berry.
They met in February 2013 when he moved to a flat in East Preston. He introduced himself to his neighbour as ‘John Jones’.
Berry helped her with odd jobs as she was not living full time in the UK as she was working in the Middle East and considering her move back to the UK and whether she would get a new job.
Christine Gearing was one of Berry’s victims in the con he was convicted over in 2010
Giving evidence behind a screen, Ms Gearing said Berry told her was ‘in a consortium of peer funding’ and in a ‘core group’ where someone would bring a business deal and all would invest a short term high interest loan.
She told Berry she had inherited money from the sale of her late mother’s house.
On 3 July, Ms Gearing was invited to join in on on such business deal and transferred £10,000 to Berry, it was said.
She said: ‘He talked about an investment that was a short term investment it would have been a few months and anything from £10,000 to £50,000 to go in.
‘I asked for details. He did show me some papers but didn’t leave them with me. He said he would photocopy them for me but never did.’
She paid £10,000 into the John Keady bank account in July 2013, with Berry ‘alongside her telling her the details’.
In September he again asked for money from her in another deal of around £5,000-£15,000 and she paid £5,000 for the investment.
Christine Gearing was targeted when Berry moved in as her neighbour. He was released early from jail after conning victims including Sara Terry (pictured)
Ms Gearing said: ‘He was pressuring me and I basically wanted him out my flat. He put me verbally under pressure trying to tell me “you must do this now, you have to do this”. He said you have to do it today.’
Ms Gearing said Berry sat in the flat with her again as she transferred the money, later realising the investments were ‘two of the biggest mistakes of my life’.
Ms Gearing said she felt pressured to keep up the false pretence of a friendship with Berry to get her money back but he then told her he was in ‘financial difficulty’ as he had spent money on a house belonging to the peer funding group.
Laura Hudson was targeted by Berry in a con for which he was jailed in 2010. He would be released early and target Kate Peel from South London
Berry’s 2010 jailing for scamming women he met online
Berry was jailed for five years at Truro Crown Court in May 2010 after admitting 19 offences of theft and fraud between 2004 and 2009.
He spent £12,000 on credit cards he’d applied for in his mother’s name, racked up more than £5,000 on cards he’d stolen from her and took out a bank loan of £3,066 in her name.
Berry befriended Mabel Arnhill at a canoe association in November 2007, telling her in December he needed £11,000 for a search and rescue mission as a friend had gone missing while climbing in the Himalayas.
He also bought a mobile phone and took out a phone contract in Ms Arnhill’s name, paid for on an MBNA credit card. He spent a further £4,700 and said his computer had saved her details so he had paid for items ‘accidentally’.
Photographer Christopher Williams met Berry around 2003 at the Plymouth Pavillion. Berry told him in 2007 about a French investment opportunity. Mr Williams handed over £8,500 which was never paid back.
Helen Scott met Berry on a dating site and gave him £600 when he told her he’d lost his wallet and owed money for a kayaking holiday.
Berry met Lorraine Cobb at the end of March 2009 on Facebook. He asked Ms Cobb if she would put her name on an iPhone contract for him as he was not on the electoral register.
She received a bill for £2,025 in cancellation fees from O2 but was never repaid any money from Berry.
Berry met Laura Hudson on an internet dating site. In October 2009 he said he needed to pay a web provider £53,000 by the end of the week. She loaned Berry £2,000 and three days later a further £8,000 at his request.
Berry met Sara Terry through Fitness Singles in October 2008. She let him buy a kayak online using her credit card around November 2008. He returned the card to her but changed the PIN number and intercepted her bank statements and ran up a bill of £9,647. He later took her purse and used the cards to spend £9,429.64.
In March 2009 Berry took out a bank loan of £15,000 in Ms Terry’s name and bought a Volkswagen van.
Speaking after Berry was jailed for five years in 2010 she said she fell for his ‘warm eyes’ but said: ‘He was 6ft 2in, weighed about 20 stone and looked like the cartoon character Shrek.’