Why was Britain’s cruellest romance conman let out of prison to do it all over again? As he’s jailed for a SECOND time for wrecking the lives of a string of middle-class women he met online | #DatingScams | #LoveScams | #RomanceScans

Handsome, 6ft 3in tall and an architect to boot, when David Cohen’s profile came up on the Plenty of Fish dating website, Lise Johansen had no hesitation in swiping right.

The year was 2018 and the then 55-year-old mother of two was not long out of a 25-year marriage. ‘When I first saw David, I liked the look of him,’ she told the Mail exclusively last week.

‘First of all we swapped phone numbers and then we arranged to meet. And it didn’t take long before it developed into a relationship. It was mutual, or at least that was what I thought. I needed somebody to hold my hand, a partner to share things with, I needed to be close to somebody — that was what I was looking for.’

Unfortunately, instead of finding the man of her dreams, Lise ended up walking into a nightmare that has cost her her health, wealth and happiness.

Because the man she met on that dating app turned out to be one of Britain’s cruellest conmen. His real name, it would eventually emerge, was David Checkley and his claim to be an architect was as false as the pretence that he was her loyal partner.

Susan Baio (pictured with David Checkley), who used to own a nursery in Bath, lost her business as a result of Checkley’s trickery

‘He hasn’t done a day’s work in his life other than defrauding people,’ Sharon Shearer, another of his former victims told me last week. ‘I dubbed him ‘The Man With The Golden Tongue’. And that’s what he is — he is an expert at what he does.’

Checkley’s expertise lies in what is known as romance fraud, or ‘rom-con’ as the crime has been nicknamed. Targeting middle-class women, he mercilessly exploited their vulnerabilities to inveigle his way into their affections, before persuading them to hand over increasingly large sums of money. His technique was honed over decades, starting in the mid-1980s when he obtained £27,000 from one victim after marrying her and remortgaging her house.

Then, in 2010, he was jailed for more than six years for defrauding ten women out of hundreds of thousands of pounds, one of whom was divorcee Sharon.

Not that he learned any lessons.

Because by 2017 he was back up to his old tricks, spinning a web of lies that saw dozens more conned out of over £100,000. The money was used to fund his lifestyle and indulge his love of Harley-Davidson motorbikes and foreign holidays.

In the end, as we shall see, in July 2021 his past once again caught up with him and he was arrested by police.

Eventually charged with offences against ten women, following an eight-week trial he was convicted of 19 counts of fraud and one of theft, and was last week sentenced to a further 11 years in jail at the Old Bailey.

True to form, the 65-year-old showed no remorse, dismissing his victims as ‘friends with benefits’.

Divorcee Sharon Shearer had lost £200,000 to Checkley after being conned by David Checkley

Detectives who investigated the case say Checkley is the ‘most prolific and heartless’ criminal of his kind they have ever come across. There were stronger words from those whom he deceived. As he was led to the cells, four of his victims were in court, cheering and shouting: ‘Scum’.

Having recently undergone surgery for cancer, Lise was not able to attend court, but it is a sentiment she shares, blaming her former ‘boyfriend’ for her illness and the financial woes that saw her losing her home and ending up living in a car and then a hostel for the homeless before being finally re-housed by the local council, on benefits. ‘I’m glad he is in prison because it is the only place he can’t do this to any other woman,’ she told the Mail.

‘I no longer trust anyone and I do believe that the stress levels have caused me to have cancer. This has ruined my life on every level.’

In recent years, the number of women looking for love, who are deceived into false relationships by fraudsters whose only aim is to steal their money, has soared.

Shaffeena Ahamed (pitured), a 54-year-old healthcare worker from North London, handed over £16,000 to Checkley less than two months after meeting him

According to data from Lloyds Bank, romance scams increased by almost a third last year, with those aged 50 to 65 accounting for more than half of the money stolen. The real figures are probably much higher, with victims of the crime often too embarrassed at having fallen for these conmen to go to the police.

And, indeed, given the outlandish claims made by Checkley, some will wonder how he got away with it for so long.

During his latest trial, the court heard that he told some of the women he seduced that his former wife was a cousin of the Hollywood actress Lucy Liu while boasting of his children’s successful careers as hospital consultants and DJs. They were lies which would be repeated in various forms to his other victims.

Other stories included him being a U.S. fighter pilot, and a veteran of the Vietnam War, despite him having come to the UK aged ten from the Caribbean island of Grenada and being just 17 years old when the conflict ended.

Checkley also claimed to own a successful architect’s practice, explaining his frequent absences by saying he was travelling the world for work, designing palaces for ‘kings and princes’ in the Middle East.

Checkley, 65, was convicted of 19 counts of fraud and one of theft, and was last week sentenced to a further 11 years in jail at the Old Bailey

In reality, he was the director of an inactive company called Greater Income Group Ltd, the initials of which adorned the private number plates of his various motorbikes and Mercedes cars. Companies House records show the firm was set up to invest in property, with Checkley having the nerve to describe his occupation as ‘financial engineering’.

As for home, that was a rented £500,000 semi in St Albans, Herts. Quite how long he was actually there is unclear given the amount of time he spent between the various women in his life, all of whom believed they were in monogamous relationships with him.

Checkley’s victims were chosen from the Plenty of Fish dating site and aged from their 40s to their early 70s.

‘It is clear from the evidence that the defendant chose his victims knowing their vulnerabilities,’ prosecutor Rekha Kodikara told the court.

‘Some of the victims had unhappy relationships, some were lonely, some were ill and they were looking for a long-term relationship.’

READ MORE: Internet Romeo conned dozens of women out of £500,000 pretending to be terminally ill

And Checkley knew the right strings to pull.

Described by one woman as ‘charismatic, confident, elegant, intelligent and wealthy’, he would come across as someone dependable and trustworthy, a loving father and grandfather. (Twice married, he has at least five children of his own.)

He took one 68-year-old woman, recovering from cancer and mourning her mother, to view a house in North London, where he said they could live with her children and grandchildren.

‘He was a charmer,’ another of the victims, a divorced businesswoman in her early 60s, said.

‘He was attentive and told a really, really good story and supported everything with photos of his family and of his grandchildren.’ Having gained their trust, Checkley wasn’t slow to ask to borrow money from the women, offering to invest it on their behalf, to buy a Rolex watch at a knock-down price or to refurbish homes which they would one day share.

‘He said he needed the money for new windows, and that he couldn’t get hold of his funds because the guy in his finance department was away in Germany,’ said the woman, who gave him a total of £3,000 during the seven weeks they knew one another in 2021. ‘I should have known better to hand over money but I did.’

Others lost much bigger sums —one 61-year-old felt confident enough to open seven credit card accounts and hand him £30,000. Another gave him £45,000.

As for Danish-born Lise, she lent him £15,700 over a three-year period. ‘He was very upfront when asking for money,’ she said. ‘I’m not a wealthy woman but there was so much — it could be anything from £10 to thousands.’

At another point one of her rings went missing, stolen by Checkley.

The crook had used victim’s cash to buy two new Harley Davidson motorbikes worth approximately £40,000

‘It was my mum’s ring, she died in 1989 and wanted me to wear it after her death,’ she said. ‘I took off my three rings and left them on my table and when David left, my mum’s heavy white gold solitaire ring, with seven brilliant-cut diamonds had gone.’

Checkley denied knowing what had happened to it and the relationship continued, despite her suspicions growing towards the end.

‘There was a time when he asked me to look for a garage to store something for him in,’ she recalled. ‘I said why don’t you just rent a space in Big Yellow or one of the storage places and he asked me to get prices. I did and when he came round to see me and we were talking about it, it turned out he didn’t understand how to work out what was a cubic metre.

‘I thought, if he couldn’t work out how to calculate a cubic metre, how could he be an architect? Can you imagine the houses he would be building if he didn’t know how to do that?’ And yet, like many of the women, she only learned the full truth of his deception with a call from the police in the summer of 2021. By then, Checkley had been rumbled by several other victims, who had alerted the authorities.

The businesswoman was among them. She worked out his real identity after paying £15 for an online check to see who was really behind an email address he used in the name of David Cohen.

Some of the victim’s money was also spent on buying this Mini Cooper

‘When I found out it was someone called David Checkley, I Googled him and there it was, all in front of me,’ she said.

‘I read the articles and saw the photos and found out about his previous victims.’

Among them were reports about the court case involving Sharon and others from 2010, whom she tracked down on Facebook and then met in person for a chat.

It was early 2021 and she believes she was the first one to report Checkley to police. Others weren’t far behind. ‘There was about six of them who got in touch and I just said to all of them: ‘You need to go to the police,’ said Sharon. ‘The fact that he came out of jail and did it all over again beggars belief, but leopards never change their spots. They said they couldn’t believe he was like this, and I told them to read the stories that were out there.’

Those stories told how Sharon had lost £200,000 to Checkley. Other women who featured in the 2010 case included Shaffeena Ahamed, a 54-year-old healthcare worker from North London, who handed over £16,000 to Checkley less than two months after meeting him and Susan Baio, who used to own a nursery in Bath, but lost her business as a result of his trickery.

His new victims also learned about another case Checkley had been involved with, which provided another terrifying insight into his true character.

Checkley spent cash on this Mercedes after conning his victims

In 2002 he was jailed for five years for his role in a ruthless, London gangland plot to abduct and murder the former Channel 4 presenter Mark Levy.

The comedian, once a familiar face on the channel’s Big Breakfast show in the 1990s, was a cocaine addict and had become involved in various scams to make money. Checkley had lured him into a deal to buy fake Rolex watches at the gangland workshop from where he was subsequently abducted and murdered.

Checkley was convicted of false imprisonment and conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm.

At his sentencing hearing last week, Judge Jonathan Laidlaw directly addressed Checkley’s newest victims.

‘I am quite certain no sentence is going to do justice, but I hope it will become clear that these are criminal offences, they are not your fault on any of these convictions,’ he told them.

In 2010, the crook was jailed for more than six years for defrauding ten women out of hundreds of thousands of pounds, one of whom was divorcee Sharon

Kind words but ones that will do little to erase the trauma of what they have all endured.

On top of the financial hit, is the emotional trauma. ‘It’s been a nightmare,’ said Lise.

‘The three years I was with David Checkley, it was nice when we were together, there were never any arguments. The problem was that he would sometimes disappear for a week or two or three when I couldn’t get in touch with him, so it was stressful throughout the relationship.

READ MORE: Duped by the cheating charmer on a Harley: How the victims of a serial conman forged an unlikely friendship

‘People have asked how I felt afterwards and maybe that was my depression kicking in, but it was like David had died and I was grieving for what could have been but I knew I could never get.’

She says it has also damaged her ability to trust anyone, a sentiment shared by the businesswoman, who has now tentatively returned to online dating — albeit very cautiously.

‘Obviously I’m very suspicious of everyone,’ she says.

‘So when any man asks me what I do for a living, I tell them that I am a policewoman. And what happens? As soon as I say that, they block me.

‘There must be thousands of scammers out there.’

Thankfully with Checkley now back behind bars, at least there is one less to contend with.

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