A former millionaire who faked an elaborate robbery before fleeing to a sun-kissed island to evade justice has finally been jailed.
Paul Waterhouse, 65, was today waking up behind bars after his near eight-year life on the run ended when he was extradited from Gran Canaria.
Waterhouse, a former nightclub and bowling alley boss, made his fortune after selling land in Blackpool to Tesco in a multi-million pound deal.
But he was later declared bankrupt and took on a manager’s role at Sofa Company on Holyoake Avenue, Bispham, in 2005.
Preston Crown Court heard Waterhouse claimed he had been locked in the toilet at the store, formerly situated next to B&Q, by a gang posing as “inspectors” in December 2005.
The gang then went on to clear the entire store’s stock worth an estimated £23,000.
But it emerged Waterhouse himself had negotiated the sale of sofas at a knock down price to a Liverpool businessman – without the authority of his employers.
In February 2006, Waterhouse pleaded guilty to offences of theft worth £23,439 and wasting police time.
But instead of returning to court for sentencing, he fled the country and went to live on the Spanish holiday island.
He was finally returned to the UK seven years later after Lancashire Police issued a European Arrest Warrant and applied to have him extradited.
Waterhouse, who at the height of his success invested in businesses and properties in the Blackpool area while employing more than 100 people, yesterday also pleaded guilty to breaching bail.
Jailing him for 16 months, Judge Robert Altham told Waterhouse: “This is an extremely determined and serious theft.
“It seems there was an element of revenge in what you did. You must have known the effect your acts could have had on the owner of that shop. It could have quite simply ruined that shop.”
Richard Archer, prosecuting, said Waterhouse called police to report three men had been to Sofa Company, locked him in a toilet and then stole the entire stock on December 12, 2005 – just six weeks after he took over running the store.
Mr Archer said: “The police were almost immediately suspicious of the account given by Mr Waterhouse and conducted a thorough investigation, with the assistance of the area manager.”
A CCTV camera inside the premises had been covered up with a brown envelope.
Mr Archer added: “Inquiries were carried out with neighbouring businesses as to whether they had seen comings and goings.
“People at a fast food restaurant nearby had seen vans pulling up to the rear, the drivers going into the fast food restaurant for food and then continuing to remove stock from the property.”
It turned out Waterhouse had negotiated a deal with a businessman in Liverpool who bought and resold bankrupt furniture stock.
A revised deal of £7,000 was reached with him and around nine sofas were bought, the vast majority then sold on.
Waterhouse eventually admitted selling the showroom stock, claiming it was bankrupt property.
He said he had fitted carpets for sofa companies in the past and ended up being owed around £15,000. He had therefore sought to recoup what was owing to him.
Paul Humphries, defending, said Waterhouse had worked hard all his life and been a very successful businessman.
The court heard Waterhouse ended up bankrupt when a bank suffered heavy losses on another continent and called in loans.
He had set up a carpet business and went on to be owed £80,000-£90,000 by a furniture company he said went into liquidation.
Waterhouse claimed a director at the Sofa Company agreed to furniture being sold at a knock-down price.
However, the prosecution did not accept this and said he had no authority to sell the goods as he did.
Mr Humphries said: “He pocketed the proceeds because he was owed tens of thousands from his former business.
“When he told the director he was keeping the money, he was told he should report everything as stolen to the police, so he made a false report.”