Durban - Coco Chanel, Armani, Hugo Boss, Yves-Saint Laurent, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Virgin are mega brands. They were also targeted by UK conman and fugitive Brandon William Pyatt, who was in the dock in the Durban Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday for his second appearance after being arrested two weeks ago, following 21 years on the run from the UK authorities.
Pyatt, originally from Manchester, skipped bail at his 1998 trial at Chester Crown Court and fled the UK. He was sentenced in his absence to five years.
During his first court appearance in Durban, Pyatt said he had been arrested at OR Tambo Airport. However, SAPS national spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said Pyatt had been arrested in Hatfield, Pretoria.
He said Pyatt appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court and was expected to appear on June 12 for an extradition hearing.
Over the years as a fugitive, he has used many aliases, including Brandon Hinchcliffe, Gary Pyatt, Brian Moriarty, Gary Hinchcliffe and Robert Kershaw.
He first gained notoriety in England in the mid-1990s when he started selling a range of wines using the name and image of Manchester United football star Eric Cantona.
It was reported in the British press at the time that Pyatt was a Manchester City fan.
Cantona was so outraged he threatened to quit football in England, while then-Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said their lawyers would resolve the issue.
But a check of UK companies shows that in and around 1996, Pyatt’s activities extended to other celebrity names, claiming to be a director or company secretary of a long list of companies, including a number of the most elite fashion brands, as well as top corporates such as the Oppenheimer Group.
While one of his aliases was a tongue-in-cheek Brian Moriarty (Moriarty was the criminal mastermind in the Sherlock Holmes tales), so were some of his companies, such as Destined to Succeed, Fast and Easy Dry Cleaning, Metamorphosis Leasing and Plan B International.
Perhaps his Plan B was to escape to South Africa, where he has spent the past 20 years moving around the country, particularly in the KZN South Coast and Camperdown areas.
The charge against him in Durban is for theft of a motor vehicle or use of a motor vehicle without consent which stems from a charge laid in 2014 by Durban businessman Richard Simpson.
Simpson, who was in court this week for Pyatt’s appearance, told the Independent on Saturday that Pyatt had been working for him when he disappeared in Simpson’s blue Jeep Cherokee.
Simpson had met Pyatt at a local bowling club in 2013 and the two became friends and business partners.
Pyatt at that time was using the name Brandon Hinchcliffe. Red flags began to appear.
“He broke his arm and when I took him to hospital, he used the name Moriarty. Then we found out he was selling his mother’s property under the name Pyatt,” said Simpson, adding that Pyatt never wanted to be in photographs.
He started to search online and discovered his friend Hinchcliffe from the club was in fact Brandon William Pyatt and was on the UK’s most wanted list.
Simpson met the Hawks, who told him to act normally so as to not alert Pyatt. But then a club member put up a newspaper article on Pyatt, who absconded in Simpson’s vehicle. Simpson laid a charge of theft of motor vehicle at Umbilo Police Station.
For the next four years, Pyatt managed to evade capture until a few weeks ago, when Simpson’s missing Jeep was found abandoned in Grahamstown.
While police remained tight-lipped about the details of Pyatt’s arrest, it is believed he had gone to the British High Commission to try to get travel documents.
During his first appearance in Durban, Pyatt told the magistrate he had cancer and required urgent treatment and wanted to return to the UK.
At his second appearance on Wednesday, he did not arrive on the prison bus and court officials had to message Westville Prison that Pyatt was required to appear.
Press reports also suggest that in 2009 Pyatt was arrested for turning his South Coast home into a dagga farm, but after being released on bail, he disappeared again.