TWELVE people from across the country have appeared in court in connection with a multi-million pound mortgage fraud conspiracy.

Magistrates in Darlington heard today (Thursday, October 3) that elderly and vulnerable victims were allegedly targeted as part of the complex scam between June 19 2007 and February 1 2011, which is thought to involve sums of between £4m and £5m.

A total of 15 defendants – some of which were in the legal profession - were initially charged with conspiring to defraud mortgage lending companies, including solicitor Peter Maine who was found stabbed to death after an early morning run.

The 56-year-old had three stab wounds to his chest when he was found at about 8am on a gravel path near Maiden Castle sports ground, in Durham City, on Sunday, September 1.

The investigation into his death in ongoing and officers at Durham Police have traced a number of potential witnesses to the incident.

The charges follow a lengthy police investigation named Operation Bamburgh.

Charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud is Jason Asiq, 44, of Coniston Avenue, Whickham, Newcastle, Leon Asiq, 46, of Holmwood Mount, Leeds, Andrew Bellwood, 34, of Alverton Drive, Newton Aycliffe, Mark Cotterill, 49, of Sandy Lane, West Kirby, Wirral, Kenneth Ingham, 60, of Cross Lane, Birkenshaw, Bradford, Karl Jones, 38, of Kestrel Court, Newton Aycliffe, Phillip Marr, 34, of Oaklands Farm, Middleton St George, Darlington, Maureen Pinkerton, 64, of North Lodge Terrace, Darlington, Michael Smith, 66, of Harewood Avenue, Sale, Cheshire and Justine Wardle, 43, of Gott Road, Leeds.

Both Lindsey Leonard, 29, of Oak Avenue, Upper Marham, King’s Lynn, and Terrence Purdie, 54, of Forster Close, Newton Aycliffe were charged with three counts of conspiracy to defraud.

No pleas were entered and the case was committed to Teesside Crown Court. All defendants were granted unconditional bail ahead of their next hearing on Friday, October 18.

Two of the defendants, Craig Purdie, 33, of Hubback Square, Darlington, and Anneka Duke, 26, of Brimham Court, Redcar, both charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud were on pre-planned holidays so could not attend the hearing.

They will appear at magistrates at a later date.