'Great betrayal': Con man ruined Christmas, claims 'mugged off' Clerkenwell mother
PUBLISHED: 16:29 09 May 2019 | UPDATED: 11:53 20 May 2019
A Clerkenwell mother who claims she was conned out of her Christmas Club savings months before her wedding day has spoken of her "great betrayal".
Marie-Ann Williamson, 42, says she lost £470 days before Christmas in 2017 when Paul Bridges allegedly stole £23,000 from the savings club he'd been running at The Horseshoe Pub, in Clerkwenwell Close, before absconding.
The Gazette last week featured a police appeal, urging people to report the whereabouts of Bridges, 54, who they cops say admitted to stealing from 50 of his "close friends" shortly before he went into hiding.
"I'm a mum and he knows that," Marie told the Gazette. "He has seen my son and has known for years and years I was a single mum - and that year, when he took the money, I was saving up for my wedding in May. It was the time I most needed the money and he stole from me.
"I was devastated that Christmas - totally screwed."
The Goswell Road mum explained her son, Spencer, then 14, had to go without the gifts she'd saved up for the year.
"You know what teenagers want," she said. "They want the most expensive trainers and clothes or whatever and it has just been a nightmare. I feel totally, utterly, mugged off by [Bridges]."
Marie-Ann says she started paying into the popular festive savings scheme in 2012 or 2013, after it was recommended by friends and neighbours.
"It had such a good reputation," she said. "It's just an old way of saving. I know I'm not going to get my money back because it's gone - it was built on trust."
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She said that Bridges took collections at the Horseshoe from 6pm to 8pm on a Thursday, and had been doing it for "donkey's years".
Sometimes Marie-Ann couldn't make it down to the club in time from work, so she'd often give the cash to a friend of Bridges who worked a fruit seller on Seven Sister's Road. She now worries this makes it even less likely she'll recover her money, as not all of the cash she's paid in has been logged on her "club card".
The mother added that she actually saw Bridges selling t-shirts in Seven Sisters Road last summer and got off the bus to confront him. But he allegedly told her: 'I have lost loads of money as well - you will get your money back.'
"It was pensioners, people like me, just ordinary folk paying in," she said. "All of us are working class and none of us are millionaires."
Det Con Darren Burt, from North Central CID, said: "The money saved by those involved in the club was hard earned and many of the victims are retired, leaving them stretched and at a huge loss.
"If you know where Bridges could be please do get in touch."
Bridges is described as white, about 5ft 10ins tall, with salt and pepper hair and a large build. He often has a red face and wears dark rimmed glasses.
He has links to north east London.
Anyone with information should call police on 101. To remain 100 per cent anonymous, call the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Were you conned out of your Christmas club cash? Contact Lucas at the Gazette newsdesk on 07785 616244 or email firstname.lastname@example.org