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15 October 2013, 06:00
A Norfolk man who sold fake signed photos of some TV stars has been sent to prison for selling the pictures on Ebay.
A tip off from an autograph collector to Norfolk County Council's Trading Standards team exposed a Norfolk fraudster who pocketed around £45,000 from fans by selling thousands of fake celebrity autographs, including Doctor Who stars David Tennant, Billie Piper and Karen Gillan.
Andrew Sullivan, 50, of Heath Road, Lyng in mid Norfolk, was handed a 21 month prison sentence at Norwich Crown Court after he had previously pleaded guilty in September to selling counterfeit autographs with false authenticity documents and pictures of stars without permission since 2006.
The outcome marks the conclusion of an investigation by Norfolk County Council Trading Standards officers which involved commissioning a handwriting and autograph expert and interviewing stars including David Tennant, Billie Piper and Caroline Munro, all of whom confirmed that signatures being sold on their photographs were not theirs.
Caroline Carter, the Trading Standards officer who spearheaded the investigation said: "We were contacted by Derek Dubery, an experienced autograph collector with a legal background, who was concerned about the high volumes, relatively low prices and likely legitimacy of celebrity autographs being sold from an ebay site directly linked to Andrew Sullivan's address in the village of Lyng in mid Norfolk.
“When we visited Mr Sullivan's home office we found an Aladdin's den of materials that pointed to a significant business operation selling celebrity-related items online.
"We seized a pile of envelopes containing autographed pictures of celebrities ready for posting and we found approximately 20 signed photos of the Doctor Who actor David Tennant, some of which were lying on the desk.
"We also took away a container of ripped-up and discarded signed photographs which were later pieced together to reveal what looked to be “mistakes” - for instance a picture of one celebrity with another actor’s signature on it and another with 12 different coloured variations of a star's signature.
"The office was equipped with a high quality printer and paper and pens suitable for reproducing and marking up photographs and when we examined the office computer we found that it was storing scores of copyrighted images of famous people."
The team consulted handwriting and autograph verification expert, Garry King of Autografica, who provided expert evidence for the court that specimen signatures were false.
They also interviewed actors David Tennant, Billie Piper and Caroline Munro who all confirmed that, with the exception of one David Tennant item, signatures sold as theirs were not the real thing. All provided witness statements for the court case.
Derek Dubery said: "I contacted Trading Standards about this individual not because I was likely to be taken in by his fairly obvious fakes, but rather my concern that less experienced collectors and especially children were likely to spend their money on worthless items. I still remember the joy of collecting Doctor Who autographs as a child and I would hate for this to be ruined for other people by unscrupulous individuals such as this."
Norfolk County Council's Trading Standards is advising people who think they might have bought fake autographs from this business and wish to pursue a claim that they would need to take civil action, but warned them to seek legal advice about the likely outcome of success.