A GAMBLER and a builder who stripped the gate receipts from Hartlepool United's home games before defrauding a business contact to replace it are facing jail terms.

Stephen Murrall and Peter Harris were trying to convince the Football League they were fit and proper persons to take over the League Two club, at the time of their fraudulent activity.

It was one of a series of frauds Murrall had carried out, two of which also involved Harris, who was announced as the club’s new chairman in 2014, Warwick Crown Court heard.

When the takeover was announced, Harris stated: “We have no links with Hartlepool. We have looked into buying football clubs and, when we looked deep down into how they are run, there’s a lot of problems to sort out. We didn’t have to do that here. We were straight in and sort out the manager.

“It’s a very professional outfit. The business is well run, very efficient and that’s what attracted me to the club in the first place.”

Prosecutor Miranda Moore QC had said in 2014, in a bid to take over Hartlepool United, then struggling in League Two, the two men set up a company called TMH 2014 Ltd, referencing the supporters’ nickname of The Monkey Hangers. After agreeing to take over the club, which has since dropped into the National League, for a nominal £5, they had to show the League they were fit and proper persons to run the club.

But they immediately instructed Hartlepool’s finance officer that all future money from home matches, including gate receipts and the bar revenue should go into TMH’s bank account.

A total of £42,453 from the next two home games was paid into the TMH account, but did not stay there, and the League made enquiries, wanting to know the two men were good for the money.

They had to repay the club, but did not have the money, so in January 2015 they persuaded Jonathan Rehbein, of ESRG Group, to loan them £50,000 over seven days at 20 per cent interest.

It was never repaid, and Mr Rehbein, “who had still not realised his £500,000 had gone west” from one of Murrall’s earlier scams over a non-existent venture in Malta, was fobbed off with a succession of excuses.

After concerns were raised over the missing gate receipts, the deal stalled. The decision to call of the deal proved costly to the club’s then chairman, Ken Hodcroft.

He stayed in charge until the club was sold to recruitment firm JPNG in 2015.

Miss Moore said Murrall was “a gambler in the true sense, spending tens of thousands of pounds, if not hundreds of thousands, betting online and losing online”.

She added: “Mr Harris is a friend of Mr Murrell, and is a builder by trade, with no real experience of finance or running a company of any note.”

The frauds came to light after Murrall was made bankrupt in 2015 and he had to hand over computer equipment, on which evidence was found.

Murrall, 49, had denied five charges of fraud, while Harris, 47, had denied three charges.

At the end of a five-week trial, the jury convicted Murrall of all five charges and Harris of two charges. Judge Sylvia de Bertodano granted Murrall and Harris, both of Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire, until November when they will be sentenced.

Simon Hunka, for Murrall, said: “He will be under no illusions. He knows exactly what will happen.” Judge de Bertodano told Harris’s barrister: “I don’t want him to take away any idea that it won’t be a custodial sentence.”