Roger Bessent was a trustee and administrator for the Focusplay Retirement Benefit Scheme but transferred savers’ money into struggling and new businesses he part owned, and which were run by himself, his family and a client.
Bessent was sentenced to 40 months in prison after pleading guilty to multiple counts of fraud, making prohibited employer–related investments (ERI) and acting as a director while disqualified.
He will serve 35 months for the fraud offences and four months for the ERI offences, to be served together. He was also ordered to serve five months for the director disqualification offences.
The sentence followed investigations by both The Pensions Regulator (TPR) and the Insolvency Service, where the agencies shared information to identify the offences committed by Bessent
It is the first time a prosecution by TPR has led to an immediate custodial sentence.
Selfish and greedy acts
Judge Nicholas Barker said the defendant’s “selfish and greedy acts” targeted “ordinary, hard-working people” who had trusted Bessent to invest their money to provide for their retirement.
Barker said: “The system relies on trust. It’s that trust you breached. You used their money as your own.
“You knew what you were doing was dishonest and wrong.”
The Focusplay Retirement Benefit Scheme was the pension scheme for Gleeson Bessent (Accountants and Business Advisers), of which he was a director.
He was also a director of a professional pension trustee firm Gleeson Bessent Trustees, which was trustee to the Focusplay scheme.
In this way, Bessent was able to access the pension scheme’s funds and transfer them to his other businesses.
Bessent used more than £120,000 to buy himself and his wife a house to rent out as a personal investment, in which their daughter lived with her partner, according to TPR.
TPR added that other funds from the scheme were used to pay tax bills for Bessent’s accountancy business and the business of a client, to subsidise the running costs of a children’s nursery and as start-up investment capital in his son-in-law’s physiotherapy business.
Nicola Parish, TPR’s executive director of frontline regulation, said: “By working with the Insolvency Service, we have brought Bessent to justice and will now go after the money he took from the pension scheme.
“This sentence shows how seriously the courts take the theft of people’s hard-earned savings.
“Trustees should be in no doubt that if they abuse their position like Bessent did they should be prepared to go to prison.”
This case is one of many issues Brits are having with pension scams.
Recently, International Adviser reported on a Succession Wealth survey which found at least one in 10 people aged 50 or over in the UK believe they have been contacted by pension scheme scammers in the last 12 months.
Nathan Long, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, commented on the Bessent case: “The rise of sinister pension scams that aim to trick people into parting with their hard-earned retirement savings is a serious stain on society and needs eradicating.
“The chunky helping of prison time handed out will go a long way to showing quite how intent regulators are on taking down the perpetrators.
“It tends to be those approaching retirement who are in the cross-hairs of the scammers.
“Protect yourself by making sure you only deal with regulated organisations, providing regulated investments and if someone calls out of the blue to talk to you about your pension, just hang up.”