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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Jim Budd

Andrew Preston, 51, of Congleton was found guilty in June at Chester Crown Court of defrauding his wine investment clients. Preston was found guilty on five counts of fraudulent trading. Preston owned three companies: Morton Fine Wines Ltd, Courtier Fine Wines Ltd, and Master Elm Ltd. Morton dealt with fine wine, Courtier with day-to-day wines, and Master Elm Ltd serviced supermarket trolleys and gas and electrical appliances. Investment clients found that some of their wine was missing when they came to sell, as Preston had sold on some of the cases and kept the proceeds. Among Preston's clients was Willy Russell, the scriptwriter for Shirley Valentine. Russell invested in 74 cases of wine, including Ports. However, when he wanted to remove the wine from storage he received only 60 cases - ten cases of 1983 Chteau Beychevelle were among the 14 missing. Preston's fraud came to light in 1996, when investors complained to the police. An investigation began in February 1997, which Preston obstructed, and it took three years to establish that 60% of his clients' wine was still in store. In all, Preston stole 70,000 (current value 115,000) by selling 170 cases dishonestly. Preston also tried to defraud Guardian Insurance of 14,460 by claiming that wine had been stolen from his house. The prosecution said that Preston stole because he was desperate for money, as Master Elm Ltd was in trouble and he was going through an expensive divorce. Preston will be sentenced on 3 August.