In our line of work, we come across some colourful characters to say the very least. We all know the stereotypes about the shady circles debt collectors have to move in. Well, while we’re not always keen on the cliches, the truth is in the course of recovering debts, we do have to deal with a motley assortment of fraudsters, conmen, chancers and career criminals, all often operating under the guise of supposedly legitimate business interests.
What we certainly never do is feel any ill will towards anyone we attempt to collect money from. At the end of the day, it is a professional service we provide, to look after the interests of the small business owners, freelancers and contractors who come to us, often at their wits end, to try to get back money that is rightfully theirs. But whoever it is that owes the money, and whatever their reasons for not paying their debts, they are still people.
So it was that we read about the fate of one Marc Marshall, who tragically died in hospital after pouring acid over himself in a courtroom, with great shock, sadness and a sense of events reaching a deeply unsatisfactory conclusion. Several years ago, we had dealings with the person known lately as Marc Marshall, when we were asked to recover money for unpaid work from him. His real name was Mr Philip George Buffett of Croydon, Marc Marshall being one of a number of aliases he used (including legally changing his name by deed poll), and it is fair to say that Mr Buffett was a career fraudster of some repute.
Our contact with Mr Buffett came when we were instructed by two clients of a company he was listed as a director of, Uber Intelligence Ltd, to chase payments owed totalling £9,000. Nothing too unusual so far. But around the same time, Mr Buffett also found himself in court on criminal charges - for defrauding Harrods of close to £250,000 by paying for several luxury items, including two Hublot watches, with a fake cheque.
Mr Buffett was convicted and details of his past came to light. In total, he had 48 previous convictions relating to fraud, including an episode in 2012 when he duped Team GB Olympic athletes out of money in relation to made-up sponsorship offers. When we ran a story about his conviction and our then-open case file on Uber Investments, we were contacted by a considerable number of clients and former employees, many with their own tales of payments never materialising. In total, we estimated that Uber Investments owed as much as £150,000 in unpaid debts. And that was just one of Mr Buffett’s many business ventures.
In Need of Help
What is clearly apparent now is that Mr Buffett, while he was certainly a convicted career criminal, was also someone who desperately needed help. Following his conviction for the Harrod’s fraud - and his admission to defrauding another seven businesses out of an additional £100,000-plus - the judge in the case described him as a “Walter Mitty character”, living in a fantasy world of imaginary wealth and status, the funding of which presumably fuelled his drive to obtain money (and luxury possessions) by fraudulent means.
The judge declined to pass a custodial sentence on Mr Buffett, stating quite plainly that it had done little good in the past and would be “a waste of state funds.” At the time, we railed against the leniency of a two-year suspended sentence that allowed a serial offender to walk free from court. It seemed inevitable, given his past, that he would offend again, and there would be more victims left out of pocket by his schemes.
With hindsight, the greater shame is that a man who clearly had a compulsion for conning others out of money did not get the help he needed.
What we also questioned at the time, and a point we strongly stand by following the tragic conclusion of this story, was how Mr Buffett was allowed to set up new companies over and over again. He was banned from being the director of a company multiple times, with an exclusion totalling 17 years. And yet he kept doing it, setting up limited company after limited company as vehicles to gain money by dishonest means.
How did he manage it? Simply by changing his name. This exposes the lack of oversight in the limited company system in this country, and it all stems from the limited liability rules which effectively detach blame for malpractice from personal responsibility. You’ve lost money to a limited company operating less than honestly? The company gets chased for the debt, declared insolvent and shuts down, the people behind the operation disappear and it is case closed. Inevitably, many simply resurface to do it all over again, in another guise.
Tragically, in the case of Philip George Buffet, this flaw in the system may have contributed to him taking his own life in the most horrific of circumstances. Following the Harrod’s case, we lost touch with him, but it appears he carried on his old ways. Only now the criminality of his behaviour was catching up with, and next time he was caught, with a two year suspended prison sentence on his file, he wasn’t going to walk away again.
When he was arrested for another cheque fraud in 2016, Mr Barrett stabbed himself in the neck as police tried to lead him away. The medical complications he suffered following that incident caused the case to be delayed for almost two years. When the trial was completed, Mr Barrett was found guilty, and was jailed for two years and four months. It was after the sentence was read out that Mr Barrett, now going under the legal name Marc Marshall, poured the corrosive acid he had somehow smuggled into court in a metal water bottle over his own face.
It took two months for Mr Barrett to die of his injuries. No one deserves a fate like that. We cannot imagine the despair that drove him to such extremities. We can only express our condolences for the devastation it has caused his family. Ultimately, for all the criminal acts he committed, the system failed Mr Barrett. How he was allowed to keep changing his name, to keep setting up new business ventures, to keep conning people out of money until his own life unravelled so horrifically, all begs some serious questions that must be looked at.