UK fraud fugitive appears in Durban court after 21 years on the run
He appeared in the Durban Magistrate’s Court on Thursday after the long arm of the law caught up with him in South Africa this week.
He was convicted on a raft of fraud and deception charges in 1998 but skipped the UK to avoid his five-year jail term.
But his name was already infamous for using the face of former Manchester United soccer star Eric Cantona on a range of wines without his permission, for which he also faced high court action in the mid-1990s.
Conspicuously aged compared with his photograph circulated by the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA), Pyatt was assisted from the court holding cells up the steps into the courtroom.
The court was empty save for officials as Pyatt, who has been a master at evading authorities in the UK and South Africa, shuffled into the dock dressed in baggy clothes and sporting unkempt long grey hair.
While the charges he faced were the theft of a motor vehicle and/or using a motor vehicle without consent which dated back to a Durban-based case laid in 2014, Pyatt had spent years on the run from UK authorities who had arrested him for defrauding a number of victims of thousands of pounds in the 1990s. This related to a vehicle leasing company he ran in the north-west of England.
Pyatt, from Manchester, skipped bail during his trial on charges of fraud and corruption at Chester Crown Court and it is believed he used a number of false identities to evade capture for the next two decades.
Facing Magistrate Kevin Bruorton on Thursday, Pyatt said he had been caught at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg while trying to return home, adding that a warrant of arrest had been issued for him by Interpol for “offences committed 25 years ago”.
Gripping the edge of the dock, he said: “I have cancer and I was going back to the UK for treatment when I was detained.”
He refused the offer of a lawyer and said he did not want bail, repeating that he wanted to go back to the UK for medical treatment.
During proceedings public prosecutor Mahomed Riaz Hoosen said the charges against the accused were laid by the owner of a blue Jeep Cherokee for whom Pyatt had worked in Durban.
The charges allege that Pyatt had disappeared with the vehicle.
Because it was a first appearance, details were sketchy, but it appeared that the criminal charges laid in Durban were flagged when Pyatt was placed in Kgosi Mampuru Prison Hospital in Pretoria after he was detained.
The date of his arrest was not revealed during the court hearing.
This week, according to British media, the UK’s NCA officer, Danny Murphy, who originally worked on the Pyatt investigation in 1998 and has been looking for him since he vanished, said: “The arrest of Pyatt brings me great personal satisfaction.
“We never gave up and his eventual capture is testament to the hard work of NCA officers in the UK and abroad and the South African authorities.”
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NCA head of international operations Ian Cruxton said: “Pyatt travelled to the other side of the world and used a range of aliases and assumed identities in a bid to evade us.
“He is a prolific fraudster and it seems that during his time in South Africa, he has continued offending and continued causing harm, making it all the more important that we track him down.
“We worked hard with the South African Police Service to bring about his capture. His arrest demonstrates that no matter how far fugitives travel in an attempt to evade us and no matter how long it takes, we will never give up.”
And Manchester United soccer fans with long memories may also welcome the arrest as Pyatt’s Cantona French Wine which he set up in Cheshire in the early 1990s nearly saw the legendary soccer star quit the team.
News reports at the time said that Pyatt, who was a Manchester City fan, claimed he had been selling more than 1000 bottles a day via mail order at £10 a bottle.
Apparently, the legendary Cantona, who was seen as the catalyst player in returning Manchester United to the pinnacle of English football in the 1990s, was so angry over the unauthorised use of his name on products that he threatened to abandon English football.
Cantona’s lawyer Jean-Jacques Bertrand issued a terse statement at the time, saying: “Eric will quit football if English companies do not stop associating his name with products on which he has not given permission for his name to be used.”
Manchester United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson said its legal advisers were “resolving the issue”.
It was also reported that the club took Pyatt to court for copyright infringement, but the outcome was never publicised.
Towards the end of Thursday’s court hearing, Pyatt told the magistrate: “I need to get to a hospital as soon as possible.”
The magistrate ordered that medical attention be given to the accused.
Pyatt is expected back in court later this month.Independent On Saturday