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The notice that was attached to the door at Cameo in April 2012 (photo courtesy of Newbury Weekly News).

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On December 18 the jury at Reading Crown Court returned its verdicts on Cameo Fine Art Auctioneers boss Jonathan King, of Mattock Way, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, his wife Beverley and brother-in-law Glenn Norcliffe, of Marcuse Road, Caterham, Surrey, after a six-week trial.

The trio from the auction house in Midgham, near Newbury, had denied a total of 11 offences allegedly committed between 2009 and 2012, but Norcliffe was convicted of fraud by abusing his position, Mr King was convicted of fraud and making false statements and his wife was convicted of one count of being concerned in the criminal retention or control of property.

Norcliffe was cleared of one charge of fraud and Mrs King was cleared of a second charge concerning retention of criminal property.

They will be sentenced at a later date.

There was drama during the trial as Mr King, 63, was taken ill and he was not in court to hear the jury's damning verdicts.

Earlier in the case brought by West Berkshire Council's trading standards, the jury heard how Mr King lived the high life while fleecing customers, how clients were routinely "fobbed off" or sent dud cheques and the bank accounts of online bidders were raided.

In addition, it is alleged, clients' goods routinely went "missing".

The true scale of the deception may never be known, the court heard, but it could involve up to £250,000.

At the close of the trial, lawyers for Mr King had sought to heap blame on his former employee, Norcliffe - while the latter claimed he was the firm's would-be saviour.

In a closing speech in defence of his absent client, Mr King's lawyer John Simmons said the prosecution had sought to portray him as "a man without moral scruple - cut him in half and he has dishonesty running all the way through him".

But he highlighted instances where Mr King had advised customers to remove valuables from auction because they could get a better price elsewhere. For married Mr King, said Mr Simmons, Cameo was "the other love of his life" which he had expected to leave "only by being carried out in a box".

"Black Hole"

He added that, to any dispassionate observer, the business was clearly "going down in flames".

But Mr King had entrusted his brother-in-law with the business affairs - a man who "took money from everybody and repaid just about nobody". And there was a "black hole" in the finances, said Mr Simmons, because "there was a vein open, bleeding straight into the pocket of Mr Norcliffe". Mr King was "shocked" when he discovered county court judgments against the firm, claiming they had been hidden from him by Norcliffe.

Mr Simmons implored jurors to look on his client as a "fool" rather than a charlatan; a man unaware his brother-in-law was "bleeding the company dry".

But Richard McConaghy, for Norcliffe, reminded jurors a colleague of Mr King testified that the Cameo boss had allegedly confided his strategy for escaping justice: "blame Glenn".

Mr King, officially declared bankrupt due to a creditors' petition in June 2012, was arrested by Thames Valley Police in January 2013 following an investigation with West Berkshire Council trading standards officers that involved contacting hundreds of former Cameo customers across Britain and abroad. Norcliffe was arrested in March.

Beset by allegations of non-payment, missing goods and credit card irregularities, Cameo had suspended trading in April 2012.

Police launched the criminal investigation shortly afterwards.

The unfolding scandal had been covered by stories in ATG and the local paper, Newbury Weekly News. Cameo also received unwelcome publicity when they were the subject of The Sheriffs Are Coming, a BBC documentary regarding county court judgments.

Prior to the arrests, the-saleroom.com had suspended Cameo from their online bidding platform after conducting an investigation into the auctioneers following a number of complaints about their activities.

Simon Berti, MD of Art & Antiques at ATG Media, owners of the-saleroom.com, who personally visited Cameo to question the auctioneers over payments errors and other concerns, told ATG: "Although Trading Standards had not become involved at that stage, we felt we had to act in the interests of both buyers and sellers, as well as those of all the other auctioneers using the site.

"People have to be able to rely on the integrity of such a service and those using it and that is why we chose to take these precautionary measures."