A CLOTHING boss accused of ripping off customers at home and abroad told a court his business was destroyed by posts on Twitter.

Mike Smallman spoke about a post in January 2013 by a former customer of his, Nikki Hesford, which described how he had conned her in the past.

It also advised fashion start-ups to steer clear of Mr Smallman’s Newton Aycliffe-based venture APM Clothing Developments.

Asked by his barrister William Byrne what effect this had on the business, he said: “Ultimately it destroyed it.”

Mr Smallman, who is on trial at Teesside Crown Court, said staff he employed were aware of his “history” - that he had a past conviction for fraud and had gone to jail.

The 52-year-old said that Ms Hesford was intent on bringing his business down and her “Twittering” became more ferocious, leading his business partner, Simon Coates, to issue a legal threat against her to desist.

But he said the effect of the messages being distributed on the internet was such that customers who had agreed to go ahead with orders were “never heard of again”.

Ms Hesford, a Lancashire-based entrepreneur, who has appeared on television’s Dragon’s Den, placed an order for blouses with one of Mr Smallman’s previous ventures, Up To The Nines, in Catterick, but lost money and said the order never arrived.

However Mr Smallman insisted he had done a “brilliant job” on the items she wanted.

The jury, which has been shown various clothing items produced by Mr Smallman and staff employed by him, heard the defendant deny claims that in his dealings with customers he deliberately withheld his surname in order to prevent them discovering his past.

Mr Smallman, of Castle Hill, Richmond, North Yorkshire, is accused of using customers’ cash to prop up APM and to fund a betting habit costing him £10,000 a month.

He denies fraud and other allegations he stole and pawned jewellery from his former Ukrainian girlfriend and took out loans in her name.

The trial, which is nearing its fourth week, continues.