Gareth Cooper: Ex-Lions rugby player's wife admits £1m fraud

The ex-wife of a former Wales and British and Irish Lions rugby player has admitted defrauding her husband of more than £1m and bankrupting him.

Gareth Cooper set up a gym and freight business which his wife Debra Leyshon ran, but she took out loans behind his back when the business struggled.

She admitted 13 counts of fraud at a plea hearing at Cardiff Crown Court.

Two associates of Mr Cooper, Mark Lee and Simon Thomas, admitted to one and two counts of fraud respectively.

Thomas, a business partner of Mr Cooper, admitted to defrauding him of £380,000, while Mr Lee took £50,000 from the fraud.

The court heard Leyshon, 41, had pretended the business was “thriving”, but took out loans and re-mortgaged the family home and four other properties.

Roger Griffiths, prosecuting, said: “[Mr Cooper] knew nothing about this. In February 2017, [he] was made bankrupt and ordered to court. A month later it was agreed he had been the victim of fraud.”

‘She became secretive’

Mr Cooper, who won 46 caps for Wales and went on the 2005 Lions tour of New Zealand, was forced to move back in with his parents and borrow £120,000 from their pensions.

He said he was “profoundly grateful” for their support.

Giving a victim-impact statement on Tuesday, the former scrum-half said: “Debra and I are now divorced. I cannot forgive what she has done, but she is the mother of my children.

“She became very secretive about how the businesses were going. When I asked her, she would fob me off. I was deceived and manipulated by the person I trusted the most – my wife and the mother of my children.”

Judge David Wynn Morgan said: “This case presents an extremely difficult sentencing exercise. The court is going to need time to reflect.”

Leyshon, of Wind Street, Laleston, Bridgend; Thomas, of Beaconsfield, Wick, Vale of Glamorgan; and Lee, of Lower Hill Barton Road, Exeter, will be sentenced at Cardiff Crown Court on Friday.

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