High-value property was seized and three arrests were made today in a new investigation into alleged fraud involving the former owner of an historic hall in County Durham.

A private jet and two yachts were seized in raids today (Tuesday, March 12) by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), supported by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

Raids took place in St Leonard’s, in Dorset, and Aylesbury, in Buckinghamshire, as part of an inquiry into the alleged £76m fraud involving UK-registered property developer, the Carlauren Group.

It collapsed into administration in November 2019 requiring some elderly residents to vacate their homes and leaving more than 600 investors out of pocket.

The Northern Echo: A private jet and three supercars were seized in raids by the Serious Fraud Squad today  amid  a

The Carlauren Group purchased 23 properties across the UK, mostly former hotels, including Windlestone Hall, near Rushyford, County Durham.

The Northern Echo: The GRade II*-listed Windlestone Hall, in County Durham, one of the properties featuring in the

It (the Carlauren Group) is alleged to have claimed backers would make an annual ten-per cent return on their investment in the renovation of these properties, as it sought to convert them into high-end care homes.

But the SFO said only nine of the properties ever became operational and some continued to be run as hotels, instead of care homes.

The group also purchased a number of vehicles, purportedly for company use, including two Lamborghinis, a McLaren 570GT, a private jet and two yachts.

More than 600 individuals and companies invested in the scheme via the purchase of rooms which were to be rented out to elderly residents, in facilities which boasted swimming pools, room service and other luxury amenities.

Rooms were advertised widely and sold with a guaranteed annual payout and the opportunity to resell the asset back with up to a 25-pc profit after ten years.

Today’s operation is part of the fifth new investigation launched by the SFO since Nick Ephgrave joined the UK’s specialist anti-fraud agency, as its Director, in September.

The Northern Echo: Today's action was taken in what is the fifth new investigationm launched since Nick Ephgrave took

Mr Ephgrave said: “This company’s abrupt collapse has created turmoil and enormous anxiety for many, with elderly people forced to vacate their homes and investors left with nothing.

“Today’s arrests are a major development in our investigation and a step towards getting the answers so many people need.”

The Northern Echo:

Windlestone Hall, once the family home of the Conservative Prime Minister of the 1950s, Sir Anthony Eden, was sold in 2017 just days before going under the hammer at auction.

The Elizabethan-origin Grade II*-listed hall had a list price, at auction, of £400,000, despite having been marketed by estate agents at a “competitively-priced” £850,000 only five months earlier.

It was the second time in its recent chequered history that it had been put up for sale after its former owner, convicted fraudster William Davenport, sought £2.5m for the hall, its grounds and associated buildings, in 2014.

He had passed himself off as a wealthy US businessman to dupe Barclays into financing his purchase of the hall, bought in 2012 from Durham County Council for what was seen by some as a controversially low figure of £241,000.

Davenport went on to be jailed for six years for mortgage fraud and the property was repossessed by Barclays.

The mid-16th Century country house, heavily renovated in 1821 to create a stately home, sits within 400 acres of designed parkland.

It has stood in a state of disrepair in recent years, with security stepped up to deter trespassers and ‘urban explorers’ looking to plunder abandoned buildings.

In July 2021 the county council granted planning permission for a large-scale renovation, to feature 13 new four and five-bed detached houses for sale to help pay for the wider development.

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The plans were put forward by the charitable Windlestone Park Estate Preservation Trust, which had come into its ownership since the Carlauren Group's collapse.

Trustees had a “vision” their proposals would have “a transformational impact” on the area, in economic, social and community terms.

Despite the objections of some local residents, the plans, backed by English Heritage, won unanimous support from councillors.