The widow of a terminally ill man who was conned out of almost half a million pounds by a close friend has condemned the fraudster as a “despicable man.”
Jonathan Speirs, a world-famous lighting architect, was persuaded to part with a total of £476,864 by friend and neighbour Keith Cameron through a complicated ruse slammed by a judge as “wicked and cruel beyond the comprehension of any right-thinking person.”
And now Jonathan’s widow Elizabeth Speirs has revealed the heartless crime has left the family bereft and struggling for cash – forcing her to sell off the spacious home on Ferry Road which she shared with her husband for 24 years.
Cameron, 54, conned Jonathan – who was dying of stomach cancer – out of thousands of pounds by claiming his company, Chase Telecom Ltd, required money to win a valuable contract to supply telecom services.
The devious businessman, who was a close family friend of the Speirs and had previously been the European boss of US communications group Global Crossing, repeatedly claimed the company was trading well and that investors had pumped millions of pounds of money into the business.
He insisted Jonathan could expect to receive a return on his investment of around £2 million within two years – and even talked him into paying a further £1595 along with an administration fee of £269 to increase his shareholding in the company to ten per cent.
But it later emerged the entire operation was an elaborate lie and that Cameron, of Russell Place, Trinity, had been using Jonathan’s cash to maintain a lavish lifestyle of posh restaurants and fancy holidays – all while his friend’s health deteriorated.
The father-of-two, who has now been declared bankrupt, was found guilty of fraud at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Wednesday and will be sentenced next month.
Today Jonathan’s wife Elizabeth said the cruel scheme had left her and her two daughters Lucie and Erin in “dire straights financially.”
The 58-year-old, who recently underwent radiation therapy for early stage breast cancer, said: “It hasn’t quite sunk in – I’m just very grateful that the jury saw through him.
“He’s just a despicable man, and what he did to my husband – who was a good man – is just awful, and the financial situation he has left us in is awful. I’m going to have to sell my house as I can’t afford to stay.
“I never got a chance to grieve for my husband because I found this out right away. I feel like I have been robbed of so much – my husband, a friend, and the chance to build a new life for me and my daughters.
“My husband had withdrawn money from a policy that he had taken out in case either he or his [business] partner became ill, so that he could exit his company without any financial impact.
“The Camerons have been friends with us for a very long time. They were people we trusted.”
Jonathan Speirs was a renowned architect whose work in lighting design illuminated some of the world’s most famous buildings, including the Millennium Dome and “Gherkin” in London and Dubai’s spectacular Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world.
In 2010, he was awarded the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest honour offered to Scottish architects.
And following his death in 2012 at the age of 54, a £10,000 Jonathan Speirs Scholarship Fund was set up to support students studying architectural lighting design.
He and Elizabeth had known Cameron – who was managing director of telecoms company Solution1 until leaving the job in 2009 – for 15 years, having met through their children.
Elizabeth, a supply teacher, said her husband had believed the money made during his successful career would ensure his family remained financially secure after his death.
But instead much of the cash was funnelled into the personal bank account of his close friend, and used to prop up Cameron’s expensive lifestyle in the face of his own financial hardship following the loss of his job.
On Wednesday, the court heard Cameron had a mortgage of £1.34m, had bought cars for his wife and daughter, took holidays in Portugal in a luxury villa, regularly frequented top restaurants and sent his two daughters to fee-paying Mary Erskine’s school.
One of his daughters also attended the American Academy of Drama and the Arts in New York and had a student flat near the Empire State Building.
The jury were told Cameron had borrowed money from his parents, neighbours and loan companies such as Wonga, continuing to spend “astronomical amounts of money” in May 2012 when he had just £110 in one bank account and 4p in another.
As part of his fraudulent scheme, Cameron had signed off three payments to Jonathan amounting to £75,935, in what were supposedly dividends from the successful telecoms company – but it later turned out to be Jonathan’s own money funnelled back to him.
“He [Cameron] did it because he was broke,” Elizabeth said. “The prosecution showed that when he left Solution1 he was given quite a lot of money – but he spent it, and by the time he came to take our money he had very little left.
“Our money paid for two Minis – one for his wife and one for his daughter. It paid for school fees and holidays to Portugal and Spain.
“He has been living a lie for many, many years. He hasn’t worked since 2009 – since then he has purportedly been setting up a business. He just got used to the good life and he didn’t want to give it up.
“But his wife and his daughters are not implicated in this – I want to make that clear.”
And Elizabeth, whose two daughters are now in school and university, revealed the lengths to which Cameron had gone to ensure his elaborate lie remained convincing – even setting up fake spreadsheets, account details, board meetings and signed shareholder agreements.
She became aware of Cameron’s crime only after she began to look into her husband’s estate following his death.
She said: “It’s not something you would have been looking out for. When somebody comes back to you with good states of account and it’s a friend who you know has a good track record, you think everything is okay. It’s not something you would expect of a friend.
“He was confident. He liked to hear himself talk – but we thought he was a good friend.”
She added: “I’m 58 and should be thinking of retiring but Keith Cameron spent the money on his own family and a lavish lifestyle.
“I am forever grateful to my friends who have supported me both financially and emotionally, and to the police and the Procurator Fiscal’s Office who took the case forward.”
Cameron’s wife declined to comment when contacted by the Evening News at the family home in Trinity.
A life in the spotlight
Jonathan Speirs, who died of stomach cancer in 2012, was one of Scotland’s most internationally acclaimed architects.
Born in Ardrishaig on the west coast of Scotland in 1958, he studied architecture at the Scott Sutherland School in Aberdeen and then at Edinburgh College of Art.
Making his name in lighting design, Jonathan formed the world-famous Speirs + Major Associates with business partner Mark Major in the early 1990s.
The Edinburgh consultancy’s work soon illuminated some of the planet’s most famous buildings, including Dubai’s spectacular Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world.
In 2010, Jonathan was awarded the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and just a year later he was handed the Professional Lighting Designers’ Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Following his death, a £10,000 Jonathan Speirs Scholarship Fund was set up to support students studying architectural lighting design.