A con artist who cheated elderly pensioners of their prized possessions by posing as an expert antique dealer has been jailed. Peter Taylor, 61, had visited homes in Chelsea and Fulham and won the trust of his vulnerable customers before whipping up their antiques, including a painting by Francis Bacon, on eBay.
The convicted fraudster had promoted himself with leaflets and business cards bearing the trade names ‘Chelsea Auction House’ and ‘Muck2Brass’, and offered appraisals for valuables. The victims had handed over their belongings, only for Taylor to “keep them as his own” or sell them online for considerably cheaper prices.
In sentencing him on Thursday March 31, Judge Sarah Paneth said he had “exploited the vulnerabilities” of his many victims for his own financial gain. After being found guilty of 11 counts of fraud, he was imprisoned for five and a half years for his crimes.
READ MORE: Wandsworth ‘kidnapping’: Met Police launch manhunt after victim sustains neck injuries
Speaking to MyLondon, one of his victims, Shahrzad Shenavar, said the five-year sentence was “too lenient” and that he had told “too many lies” since the start of deception in 2016. She had first met Taylor, who also went by his former name of Peter Tillett, in June 2018 after obtaining a card advertising his services.
The court heard that between March 2016 and February 2019 he managed to defraud treasures worth £267,000, many of which were never recovered. In what has been described as a “similar pattern”, he offered to appraise items in his workplace and told his victims he would send in an inventory and appraisals.
Over time, he became “evasive” and ignored emails and phone calls. Several of his victims had gone to the addresses listed on his two websites, only to find that he no longer lived or worked there. In several cases, he would provide no explanation of the location of their property, which would often be listed for sale at different prices than fair value.
Judge Paneth summed up: “I am sure that, following a pattern which has become familiar – you would treat these objects as your own, not by mistake or because you were busy, you never intended to provide a evaluation at all.”
In the case of Caroline Shamash, she had turned over furniture, fixtures, and glassware to Taylor and had been under the impression that he would provide her with a full appraisal and inventory. He sold several of his items on his Muck2Brass website and then became “impossible to find”, refusing to respond to his email inquiries throughout 2016 and 2017.
The victim left with ’50p in his pocket’
He did not provide any documents and during his testimony to the jury, told them he “couldn’t bother to answer”. Mrs Shamash was left with “50p in her pocket” and although she confronted him and Taylor promised to pay, she was left penniless due to the loss of her valuables.
“What you did was take those items and treat them as your own. You have abused the goodwill and trust of good and trusting people,” Ms Paneth said.
In another heartbreaking case, Helen Ford reached out to Taylor to help clean up her mother’s apartment, who recently died of Alzheimer’s disease. After taking several items from her childhood home, she began seeing them being sold on the Muck2Brass website and refused to acknowledge her claims for compensation.
In an emotional victim impact statement, Ms Ford said one of her mother’s last wishes was for the proceeds from the sale of her valuables to be donated to charity. She said: “I have already lost my mother twice, once to Alzheimer’s disease and once to death. His actions had caused this for the third time. I haven’t slept well since we realized he never intended to sell these items on our behalf.
“I constantly think about how I let my mum down, it was one of the last things she confided in me and it’s something I will never get over. I woke up and saw my childhood being taken away from this house thinking of the good I was doing with the product.
Ms Ford had spent hours sifting through 15,000 images to identify items he had taken from her mother’s home. When she confronted Taylor, he forced her to prove that the items belonged to him and his family.
Speaking to MyLondon, Ms Shenavar said she contacted Taylor in June 2018 after seeing her business card and expressed her wish to sell a few items. She said she started collecting antiques 30 to 40 years ago and had a number of valuable possessions in her collection.
She showed us her camera roll, where she had taken several photos of her valuables, including one with Taylor’s hand in the background. “I knew right away that something was suspicious. He got aggressive when I started taking pictures and said “you’re the only one taking pictures”. As soon as he left, I called him before he even reached the end of my street and asked him to bring me my things. He didn’t bring them back,’ she told MyLondon.
Her son was suspicious and tried to contact Chelsea Auction House, but found they were no longer in business. Increasingly worried, he contacted another auction house on King’s Road and asked if they knew of a dealer named Peter Tillett.
He told us, “They immediately said ‘Call the police now.’ They explained that he never paid anyone and took valuables and sold them online – he had a reputation, he was known.
£1,050 whipped wine glasses on eBay for £40
In one example, she had spent £1,050 on a valuable set of cranberry-coloured wine glasses, which were over 200 years old. She later found them whipped up on eBay for £40 and was unable to track down a number of her items, including a sterling silver Victorian tea set.
Antiques dealer Maria Gabriela Ponce de Leao was also defrauded, having given Taylor 140 items worth £40,000, the majority of which were never recovered. Judge Paleth summed up: “She says she actually feels like she’s a homeless living at the whim of her daughter and she’s stopped dealing in antiques, she’s lost all trust in people and antique dealers.
Other victims included Lady Patsy Alliott, 90, TV personality Steven Morris and celebrity chef Eric Payet. In various impact statements, they spoke of the “panic attacks, desperation and despair” the incidents had caused them, with one victim, Gill Miller, dying before Taylor could be brought to justice.
Stephen Morris, who lost around £75,000 to Taylor, told the courts: “He had the audacity to tell the police that I was threatening him. I’m a 65 year old retiree who never even had a parking ticket, for God’s sake. Peter Tillot knows how to make the system work.
“Psychologically, my trust in everyone I come into contact with has been diminished. Previously, I was able to go about my business with the belief that everyone would be honest and that the system would be there to protect me.
Taylor, from Twickenham, was previously jailed for four years in 2012 for a £3million VAT scam and previously featured on Channel 5’s Cowboy Builders. He was also convicted in 1999 after getting property by deception and had been sentenced to unpaid community service.
Judge Paneth told the fraudster: “All the evidence shows that everything you did was for your benefit.” She summed up that he lied to his victims by selling their items with “pitiful values” in his belief that he had found a “niche” in the market.
Speaking about her past work with the Samaritans charity, she said: “I think you have an immense ability to empathize with people and the ability to use that in a positive way, but unfortunately you were motivated by greed and arrogance and used it in a negative way – Because people trusted you You returned goods and made payments to people, albeit after police were involved in every time.
He was sentenced to five years and five months in prison and a forfeiture order is in place. Speaking to MyLondon about the sentencing, Ms Shenavar said: ‘Five years is too lenient, I thought the judge was too nice to him. He told so many lies, five years wasn’t enough, he’ll be out soon.
She told us she is now focused on getting compensation for the £13,000 lost, although she says the actual sum was much higher. “He was only prosecuted for items for which there were receipts – one of the rugs he took was not included, along with other antiques.”
I’m MyLondon’s court and crime reporter, covering the capital’s latest trials, inquests and courts. I am currently based in South West London.
Three cases I reported recently include:
You have a story? You can email me at [email protected] or DM me on Twitter @holly_evans98