Ostrich Farmers Who Fooled Celebrities, Police and Lawyers Are Jailed for Fraud
Boggan, Steve, The Independent (London, England)
CIVIL SERVANTS do not often resort to humour to put across their message, but the inspector from the Department of Trade and Industry seemed unable to resist. "I hope," he wrote, "that members of the club are not burying their heads in the sand over the likely returns they can earn."
This quip was contained in a report on the activities of the Ostrich Farming Corporation (OFC) and the 2,000 per cent profits it had promised investors - or members - on the sale of the birds to farms. Whether or not their heads were in the sand, 2,700 investors handed over more than pounds 22m during a 15-month period that saw the company run up debts of pounds 70m.
Yesterday two of the men behind the scheme were jailed at Leicester Crown Court after they admitted conspiring to defraud investors who included policemen, lawyers and celebrities such as Fiona Armstrong, the former ITN newsreader.
It seemed an unlikely scam, but when, in 1995, Nottingham businessmen Brian Ketchell, 50, and Allan Walker, 57, began promoting ostrich meat as the future of healthy eating, the BSE scare was at its peak.
Philip Shears QC, representing Ketchell, said OFC had been established by both men as a "legitimate" business above a shop in New Ollerton, Nottinghamshire, exploiting concern over mad cow disease and comparing ostrich breeding with salmon farming.
Using national newspaper advertisements, they offered the chance to buy birds from pounds 1,400 for a chick to pounds 14,000 for a mature breeder, whose offspring would be sold, guaranteeing a return of up to 2,000 per cent over 10 years. Investment guaranteed membership of the "Ostrich Owners' Club".
The scheme was an instant success, attracting investments of up to pounds 60,000 a time. Fiona Armstrong invested more than pounds 20,000 and agreed to present an 18-minute video for the scheme. Her mother invested a further pounds 10,000. In court Ms Armstrong said: "At the time the newspapers were full of this thing. It was exciting."
In April 1995 the Companies Investigation Branch of the Department of Trade and Industry examined the operation, concerned about the attention it was attracting. …