The Shropshire lives ruined by timeshare crook John 'Goldfinger' Palmer

Shrewsbury | News | Published:

He was known as Goldfinger, the timeshare conman who made millions in a ruthless operation that ruined the lives of his victims.

Hazel Turner was a victim of conman John Palmer, inset. She admits to letting out a sigh of relief at news of his death.

But John Palmer was last month murdered, gunned down in the garden of his £800,000 four-bed detached home.

Several people from Shropshire were among the estimated 17,000 holidaymakers from across Europe who were swindled in the ruthless operation.

And news that 64-year-old Palmer – once dubbed Britain's richest crook – had died was a disturbing reminder of their timeshare ordeal.

In building his massive fortune, timeshare crook John Palmer trod over thousands of innocent and trusting people.

Palmer did not care about them, so it is hard to find much sympathy now that he has had his comeuppance.

He flaunted the fruits of his criminality and made it on to the Sunday Times rich list, which should have been called a stinking rich list in his case, because everything smelt fishy.

Time and again he evaded the law, before some brave people who stood up to him in the witness box ensured he spent at least some time at Her Majesty's Pleasure.

The punishment for his crimes was not death, but this man who laughed at the rules of society was done for by others who also have no regard for the rules of society.


Palmer was shot six times in the chest at his home in Essex.

Amazingly, police initially thought his death was not suspicious.

Palmer lived the good life as a result of his activities, but did not die a good death.

There is speculation he was shot because he was about to become an informant.


So any idea that he got his just desserts must be tempered by the knowledge that this "justice" was meted out by people who are even worse.

Today two of those victims spoke out of the pain inflicted on them by Palmer and how they are still suffering many years on.

One of his victims was former businesswoman Hazel Turner, now aged 72, from Higher Heath, near Whitchurch, who twice gave evidence when Palmer was on trial at the Old Bailey almost 15 years ago.

"I let out a sigh of relief when I heard of his death," she said.

"It was a nasty chapter in my life and his death has finally brought some form of closure.

"I know a lot of other people were put under extreme pressure and stress by Palmer and his business associates."

Mrs Turner was one of more than 60 live witnesses at Palmer's marathon trials.

Initially the case started in September 1999, but after eight months in court, as the trial entered its final stages, it collapsed and the jury had to be discharged.

It was the result of newspaper reports of the notorious Kenneth Noye's conviction for the M25 murder of Stephen Cameron, which had included references to Palmer being Noye's "rich pal" who had flown him out of the country after the killing.

"I didn't know how serious the case was until I went to court on the first occasion.

"It was a scary experience standing up to Palmer, who was representing himself," said Mrs Turner.

She said she realised then that she was on dangerous ground giving evidence against a man she described as "a powerful criminal".

"But I did stand up to him. He asked me if I knew who he was. I said 'yes, you're the conman who had my money.' I was told off by the judge for that," said Mrs Turner.

Before the start of the second trial in October 2000, Mrs Turner received a letter and a refund of £6,300 from Palmer's timeshare resort companies.

"He was trying to pay me off because he knew I was a strong witness.

"But I went back and gave evidence again," she added.

Palmer was finally convicted in May 2001, and was jailed for eight years for the £30 million scam, said to have enabled him to amass a £300 million fortune.

The Old Bailey jury heard that Palmer, consumed by greed, had plotted with others to take customers for every penny they had through a buy-sell scam which promised to sell a holidaymaker's timeshare at an overvalued price within weeks, if they agreed to buy another property at one of Palmer's 13 Canary Islands timeshares.

Owners were told they could make huge profits, but scores of people were simply left lumbered with two properties.

Customers were promised automatic refunds if the sales were not completed after nine months and Palmer set up several resale companies to process sales applications.

However, the resale operations were nothing more than fraudulent sham companies, ripping off clients for hundreds of pounds to register for a resale which would never happen.

Victims had often been lured to presentations with the promise of scratchcard prizes, plied with cheap sparkling wine and worn down by aggressive "hard sell" pitches.

Sales staff were "totally cynical" and there were no fixed prices, allowing staff to charge any amount they thought the customer was willing to pay.

To prevent clients having any chance of getting out of a deal, staff would drive them to the bank to get the cash, claiming that the office credit card machine was broken. Among the UK victims were Cliff and Sarah Griffiths, from Meole Brace in Shrewsbury, who lost several thousand pounds through Palmer's timeshare scam.

To Mr Griffiths, 72, a retired civil servant, news of Palmer's violent death did not come as much of a surprise.

"It's a wonder it hadn't happened years ago, taking into account all the stuff he was involved in," he said.

While Palmer was eventually told to pay back millions of pounds in compensation, very little reached many of the victims, including Mr Griffiths and his family, who were mis-sold a timeshare property in Palmer's Island Village in Tenerife.

"Despite the passing of time you don't forget the stress and strain of what happened.

"We are not going to lose any sleep over what's happened to John Palmer. Good riddance, I say," said Mr Griffiths. Palmer was nicknamed Goldfinger by the media after being cleared of handling the gold from the £26 million Brinks Mat robbery at Heathrow airport in 1983 and had insisted that he was not a friend of Noye, one of the bullion raid gangsters.

In 2005 Palmer was released from prison after his Old Bailey conviction and within two years was arrested again in Tenerife and was subsequently charged – along with his live-in partner Christine Ketley and nephews Andrew Palmer and Dean Morris – for offences of fraud and money laundering.

No date had been set for the trial.

A reported 56-page indictment suggests the Spanish authorities believed Palmer had continued to run his criminal enterprise from his cell at HMP Long Lartin in Worcestershire. Since 2007 Palmer had been on bail and was facing a potential 15-year sentence in Spain and reports suggest that he may have been on the verge of turning "supergrass" and helping police convict other criminals in exchange for his freedom.

Having been charged in May, the decision to allow Palmer to return to the UK on bail has been described as "incredibly unusual" – an indication he was about to become an informant.

In the month since Palmer was killed there has been speculation that his murder was ordered by underworld figures and that he had links to the Russian mafia.

Scotland Yard officers say Palmer was shot repeatedly from close range in what appears to have been a professional killing.

John Palmer's death was controversial as his life.

He was murdered, but it appears police did not act as quickly in investigating the circumstances of the killing as they should.

It took Essex Police almost a week to find out the 64-year-old timeshare crook had been shot. This was despite the fact that he had wounds that showed he had been shot six times in the chest. Detectives initially judged Palmer's death to be non-suspicious and blamed "pre-existing" injuries from recent heart surgery for causing confusion over how he died.

Palmer, who at one stage had amassed a £300 million fortune, was gunned down in his back garden on June 24 and was discovered by a family member. Ambulance crews were first at the scene and requested the police attend the secluded house, deep in Langton's Wood at South Weald in Essex.

In the weeks following, Essex Police referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

But last week the IPCC released a statement, which said: "Following an assessment of the evidence provided, it has been recommended that the matter should be investigated locally by the police force."

Speculation has arose that his death was ordered by underworld figures who feared he was being primed to inform on other criminals.

Palmer was said to be "on the verge'" of helping police in ongoing investigations in exchange for having his looming 15-year jail term lifted.

Trouble always followed Goldfinger

When John "Goldfinger" Palmer was acquitted at the Old Bailey in 1987 of conspiracy to handle stolen gold bullion worth £26 million, he blew a kiss to the jury that had found him not guilty.

He was soon on a plane to his crooked timeshare business in Tenerife and must have thought that he had also kissed goodbye to the high-risk end of criminal life.

Trouble continued to follow him and he was still facing criminal proceedings when he was found dead.

Having left school at 15, Palmer, from just outside Birmingham, made his first money selling paraffin off the back of a lorry, but he was soon on his way to more profitable work as a dealer in jewellery and director of a small bullion firm on the outskirts of Bristol. It was this involvement with smelting that led police to Palmer after the 1983 Brink's-Mat gold bullion robbery – hence the nickname.

He was acquitted of handling the bullion, but others, including his associate Kenneth Noye, were convicted. Palmer returned to enjoy the fruits of his crime. For a while it looked as though he had it all: the yacht, the cars with the personalised number plates, the dozens of properties. He even made it to No 105 in the Sunday Times rich list.

But he could not resist boasting about his abilities to launder money to undercover reporters from The Cook Report in 1994, which led to a show called The Laundry Man, and the police kept a watchful eye. In 2001 Palmer was back at the Old Bailey charged with a massive timeshare fraud. He was jailed for eight years and served four.

"My abiding memory of him is that he was a very tight little fellow and hated parting with any money in spite of the fact that he had millions," said Jason Coghlan, a former armed robber who served time with Palmer in Long Lartin and now runs JaCogLaw, a legal advice firm in Malaga.

Coghlan believes Palmer's real legacy will be the vast network of crooked timeshare schemes in Spain, many of whose victims he now represents. "These snidey scams are not the work of professional villains but scumbags hiding in offices based all over Spain and a lot of them learned their trade from John's activities in Tenerife," he said.

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