A prolific British conman is on the run in Spain, suspected of romancing a beautiful divorcee and fleecing her of her life savings.
Mark Acklom – once an infamous schoolboy fraudster – is said to have left his victim financially and emotionally devastated after promising to marry her.
Police in Avon and Somerset began investigating him two years ago after Carolyn Woods, 55, alleged he had posed as an MI6 agent and conned her into lending him her £850,000 savings during a year-long romance in Bath in 2012.
She told Sky News: I was completely devastated, he left me destitute and destroyed my life. I felt as though I had fallen in love. He told me he had never felt this way about anyone and we must get married.
I’ve still got the wedding dress I never wore. It was all a charade. At the time I actually wished he had killed me. I was suicidal.
While detectives tried to find Acklom last summer, we tracked him down to a prison in Spain, where he was awaiting trial for his latest scam.
Acklom, 43, was jailed for three years for duping two brothers into paying him £200,000 as a deposit on the sale of buildings he didn’t own.
He invited me to visit him in prison in Murcia and wrote to me, promising in one letter: I will never run away again. I only have one last chance. If I mess up I know it ends.
Acklom was released from jail in March. He called me to say he was free, but then vanished again.
In June, British police issued a European arrest warrant in his name in a bid to put him on trial in the UK for fraud by false representation against Ms Woods.
Ms Woods met Acklom when he walked into her Gloucestershire boutique to buy a jacket, chatted her up and told her he was a Swiss banker visiting the UK to buy a Cotswold airfield. He said his name was Mark Conway.
Within days they had begun a romance and moved in together, though she later discovered he was also living nearby with his wife and two young children.
She said: He was flirtatious, charming and very entertaining. He has a great presence and charisma, he exudes confidence and the air around him was electric. I was caught up in a whirlwind of excitement.
He said he was doing things for The Prince’s Trust and helping fundraising at Clifton College and everything was cloaked in respectability.
One of the most extraordinary things he told me was that it was all a cover and he was an MI6 agent. It sounds very far-fetched, but he convinced me it was true.
We were in London and he said he’d been called in by his boss, so he drove me to the MI6 building and I watched him walk down into a car park past two armed policemen.
There are no photographs of us together because he said his handlers would not allow it because of his security. He began to get to me psychologically and I became frightened.
What he was trying to do was isolate me, he got me to leave my job, move in with him and by the time I had given up my independence I was a prisoner.
One day, she said, she overheard him discussing a cash flow problem and offered to lend him money.
Ms Woods said: I had just sold my house and I offered him a loan of £26,000. In the end I lent him everything I had.
She said her two daughters believe she was brainwashed by Acklom, who she later discovered had been jailed for fraud when he was a public schoolboy in Eastbourne.
At 16 he stole his father’s gold Amex card, posed as a stockbroker and hired jets to fly his friends around Europe.
He even persuaded a building society to give him a mortgage of nearly £500,000 which he used to buy a small mansion in London.
We discovered he has since been jailed three times in Spain for a variety of fraud offences. He also changed his name to Marc Ros Rodriguez.
Acklom told me Ms Woods’ claims were nonsense, but later insisted he didn’t really understand what she was saying about him.
She said: I was in love with the man Mark Acklom created. He hooked me and reeled me in.
(c) Sky News 2016: British conman wanted for £850,000 divorcee fraud