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03 Jul, 2010

Banksy fraudsters are ‘old-fashioned conmen’

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Suspended sentences for duo who made tens of thousands by passing off fake prints of graffiti artist’s work as originals

Two men who pleaded guilty to selling fake prints by the graffiti artist Banksy were condemned as “old-fashioned conmen” by a judge today, although they escaped jail with suspended sentences.

Grant Champkins-Howard, 44, and Lee Parker, 45, fooled customers on the internet auction site eBay into believing they were buying originals by the secretive artist.

They claimed the copies were produced by Pictures on Walls, a company which has exclusive rights to produce authentic Banksy prints. The pair made tens of thousands of pounds from the scam and shattered confidence in the market for Banksy’s work, the court heard.

Passing suspended sentences of 12 months for both men, Judge Suzan Matthews said: “Neither of you should be under any illusion that I regard both of you as nothing more than a pair of old-fashioned conmen. You saw a way, and exploited a way, of making a quick and easy profit.”

They were both ordered to perform 240 hours community service.

The court heard that Pictures on Walls produces tag-stamped and limited edition screen prints of Bansky’s signature stencilled images. Champkins-Howard and Parker persuaded both collectors and novice buyers to part with up to £2,000 each for fake prints.

They claimed to have already built their own collection of Banksy posters, only deciding to cash in when the value of originals soared.

Police seized 120 prints, including some that were genuine, during a raid on Champkins-Howard’s home after a two-month investigation last year.

Richard Mandel, prosecuting, said Champkins-Howard persuaded one buyer to pay £1,300 for a fake print called Turf War which depicts Winston Churchill with a mohican. When another potential customer became suspicious after being offered £2,000 for a specific print, Champkins-Howard managed to find him the real thing.

“The defendants did have clever management in place,” Mendel said.

The pair admitted the five-month scam, between January 1 and June 19 last year.

The judge said: “Regardless of their state of knowledge, they [purchasers] were talked into parting with substantial sums of money, believing they were acquiring something of value – they were buying fakes.”

An eBay spokesman said the firm was delighted with the verdict after working with Metropolitan police on the investigation.

“Our long-standing commitment to this case highlights our intolerance for those fraudsters who attempt to sell fake items on our site,” he said.

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