A former City solicitor who was jointly responsible for setting in motion a vast investment fraud scheme has been jailed for 15 years, it can now be reported. 

Jonathan Denton, 64, was sentenced for two frauds which were worth £25m in total. He was one of more than a dozen individuals convicted and sentenced whose crimes are able to be reported for the first time after the conclusion of multiple court proceedings.

North Yorkshire Police described its Operation Circus Two as the biggest ever undertaken by the organisation, spanning witnesses from across the world and examining bank records linked to dozens of individuals and companies.

A previous investigation had looked into reports that former financial adviser Simon Oakley was working with Denton to promote an investment scheme that was dubious and likely fraudulent.

This scheme cascaded through to a network of related ‘Ponzi’ investment schemes which promised investors huge returns. Early investors were paid out of the funds from more recent investors.

Those putting in money believed they were dealing with honest, law-abiding professional people, but the police found their trust was abused and many received nothing in return. North Yorkshire Police said that around £30m in total was lost by victims, some of whom invested their pensions and life savings.

The first trial of seven defendants connected with the schemes lasted 25 weeks and verdicts were delivered in December 2022.

Oakley’s retrial began in January this year. The court heard he was the ‘architect’ of the original scheme along with Denton. He was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to eight years in prison.

Denton was a member of US firm Locke Lord from 2012 to 2015, during which time around £21m was paid by investors into the firm’s client account with no verifiable returns to investors. The Solicitors Regulation Authority and Locke Lord had initially agreed that the firm should pay a £250,000 fine for its role in the matter, but this was revised up to £500,000 after the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said the original sanction did not reflect the seriousness of what had happened.

Denton was struck off in 2018 and ordered to pay £70,000 after the tribunal found his conduct was ‘planned and a flagrant breach of the trust placed in him by his clients and investors who relied on his status as a solicitor’.

Speaking after the conclusion of the final case, DI Janine Mitchell, head of economic crime at North Yorkshire Police, said: ‘I’d like to pay tribute to the small team of investigators, who managed a vast and complex investigation with commitment and professionalism. This investigation was a herculean effort and the guilty verdicts and lengthy jail terms given to many of the defendants are a testament to their determination to secure justice.

‘The frauds investigated as part of this operation didn’t just target wealthy investors. Some of the victims were elderly and vulnerable, and others were working people like plumbers, carpet fitters, postal employees and even a retired police officer.’

A proceeds of crime confiscation investigation will now follow.