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Pirate video scam mastermind jailed

PUBLISHED: 07:01 13 December 2002 | UPDATED: 13:11 03 March 2010

FLAMBOYANT businessman Allen Watts is starting a jail sentence today after Europe's biggest pirate video scam was finally smashed in a Suffolk bust.

Watts, 56, pirated half a million copies of Hollywood blockbusters including Lord of the Rings, The Gladiator and The Matrix.

FLAMBOYANT businessman Allen Watts is starting a jail sentence today after Europe's biggest pirate video scam was finally smashed in a Suffolk bust.

Watts, 56, pirated half a million copies of Hollywood blockbusters including Lord of the Rings, The Gladiator and The Matrix.

He netted about £2m from the fake videos, which were sold unwittingly by high street stores, Norwich Crown Court was told.

But the operation, which funded Porsche owner Watts' high lifestyle, was busted in a joint investigation by the Federation against Copyright Theft and police after film industry employees spotted a small number of counterfeit videos on the market.

Watts's barrister told the court that the father-of-two was now a "broken man" as he also faced a civil claim for damages from the industry.

Watts, who pleaded guilty to two offences of conspiracy to defraud the film industry, was jailed for a total of three years 11 months.

Sentencing him, Judge Paul Downes described him as a man of "remarkable arrogance" said: "These cases seem to show sustained and organised dishonesty on quite a sophisticated level."

Even while on bail awaiting trial for defrauding the film industry, Watts set up his crooked operation again but was caught in a raid packaging fake copies of blockbuster Lord of the Rings.

David Groome, prosecuting, said more than 6,000 counterfeit copies of Lord of the Rings were found during a raid on an industrial unit in Main Street, Stratford St Andrew, near Saxmundham, in Suffolk, on October 15.

About 200 video recorders were producing copies of the movie, which were destined for high street stores.

The bust came 19 months after a separate video pirating operation masterminded by Watts was uncovered at an isolated warehouse between Besthorpe and Spooner Row in South Norfolk. In that raid, officers found 1200 recorders and 70,000 cassettes in a counterfeiting set-up said to have been the largest of its kind in Europe. He said the pirate copies produced by Watts were of high quality and almost indistinguishable from the genuine item

At Watts's luxury home in Attleborough, documents seized indicated he had sold 500,000 videos grossing £2m. A sum of £1.5m had been paid into known bank accounts and most of it withdrawn in sizeable sums over a period of time. Investigators are still trying to track down the cash.

Keith Cranston, 40, of Edmund Road, Brandon, Suffolk, who admitted one offence of conspiracy to defraud the film industry is due to be sentenced on January 9.

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