Victims of Ringwood conman undertaker Stuart Price may their money back
HUNDREDS of people conned by a disgraced New Forest funeral director who died of Covid could get their money back, an accountant working on their behalf has revealed.
Convicted fraudster Stuart Price (57), of Ringwood, died before he could face justice again over improperly using cash from 200 clients to keep his business afloat.
He set up Just Cremation and promised customers that their money would be kept safe in a bank account.
But after Mr Price's death, his accountant, David Ross, of Fair Balance in Bournemouth, discovered the designated funeral funds had instead been used to prop up Mr Price’s company.
If he had not died, the undertaker could have faced jail for fraud.
Two of Mr Price’s customers passed away before receiving their money, Mr Ross said.
“It has been very difficult talking to someone who has just three months to live who have had to find the money for the funeral they thought they had already paid for again," said Mr Ross.
“But we will get their money back for their estate at least.”
Mr Price had launched himself as an "independent family funeral director" after being released from jail for a previous fraud in 2014 where he had fiddled £1m as a director of three building firms.
Despite having no experience in undertaking, he launched Just Cremation online, with people from all over Hampshire and Dorset signing up either for £1,540 for a simple cremation or £2,650 with a service.
After Mr Price died, accountant Mr Ross found that instead of being ring-fenced the money had been used by Mr Price to keep his business afloat.
Mr Ross set about finding out who was owed what and how they could be repaid.
He said: “If the matter had gone to an insolvency company a lot of these people's money would have gone on professional fees and research. But my wife and I have done it all for free.
“I just felt it was the right thing to do. Thirty years ago, people helped me for nothing when I really needed it and this was like paying that deed back.”
He wrote to around 200 of Mr Price’s customers asking how much they paid him, with replies from all but 30.
He said: “We are in a position now to know who is owed what and we are setting about selling Mr Price’s assets to repay them.
“We have already sold a car and are about to sell a van. There is also a house which will raise a lot of money. I think everyone will hopefully get back everything they paid him, or near enough.”
He called Mr Price “misguided” rather than criminal, saying: “I think he was trying to get his business going, but what he did was very wrong.”
The accountant said he welcomed the fact that from this week the pre-paid funeral sector will be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.
He said: “It will make it much safer for customers as companies will not be able to offer this service unless they meet strict conditions.”