BANGOR’S con man turned wannabe royal assassin Mark Townley is to spend another year in jail.
Dodgy dealing Townley, now known as Ashraf Islam after claiming to undergo a jailhouse religious conversion, was due to walk out of jail this Sunday (23rd) after serving time for a bizarre plot to kill Prince Harry.
But last week he was sentenced to a further year in prison for a £56,000 fraud operation he committed with his notorious company National Task Force (NTF). Islam pleaded guilty to two counts of fraudulent training between April 2009 and May 2011.
Back then the ex-Bangor Grammar School pupil was still known as Mark Townley and ran NTF - supposedly a business aimed at the voluntary sector, but Townley used it to rip off youth groups and charities across the UK including two in North Down. He’d already amassed a criminal record for dodgy dealing, but his innocent victims had no idea they were being duped by a serial con man.
Last week Belfast Crown Court heard that Townley defrauded a large number of victims out of a total of £56,000 in his fraudulent training – though a prosecutor said it is ‘difficult to know’ exactly how many victims there are. In one case outlined to the court, it was stated that NTF advertised that it could supply boxing rings to clubs at a cut-price rate.
One boxing club in Wales paid more than £1,600 but neither received the ring nor got their money back.
Last week’s court heard that Islam was suffering from mental health issues at the time and there was no evidence he had benefited financially from the frauds. Sentencing Islam to one year in prison, Judge Patricia Smyth said the 32 year old has ‘a long history of embarking on business schemes that have no practical level of success and are doomed to failure’ – a fact, she added that is borne out by the Bangor man’s criminal record.
That record dates back many years, though undoubtedly the most spectacular entry came in May last year when Islam walked into a police station in London and told officers he was plotting to kill Prince Harry.
He told police he’d planned to disguise himself as a tourist and phone in a diversion, then disarm an officer and use that weapon to gun down the prince.
Police who searched Islam’s computer found a document reading, “Aim for target. No civilians to be injured. Dress code is the biker look. Use low-calibre pistol at close range. Not to be viewed as Islamist extremist.”
During his subsequent trial the judge described the murder plot as ‘vague and unlikely to succeed’.
The Bangor man received a three-year sentence for his royal threats, 18 months in prison followed by 18 months on licence.
But his brushes with the law stretch back much further.
Back while he was still called Mark Townley he got a suspended sentence for running a fake bodyguard scheme aimed at ex-soldiers in Liverpool.
After that he was accused of running a modelling scam in Dublin before returning to his hometown of Bangor to set up NTF. That company collapsed in 2010 when NICVA, a body representing voluntary groups, warned people off dealing with Townley and raised questions over a scheme where he claimed to be able to provide minibuses for fraction of the usual cost – provided he was paid up front.
Townley proclaimed his innocence and blamed NICVA for the collapse of NTF, only for groups all across the UK to come forward claiming he’d ripped them off.
In Bangor that included Rathgael Gymnastics Club. Officials from the children’s sports club said they were owed thousands of pounds in unpaid rent and coaching fees for free running classes Townley ran on their premises, and also claimed that he got their kids to raise money for charity only to apparently pocket the cash.
That charity, Crawfordsburn-based Food For Though Africa, said that Townley went around seven clubs in Northern Ireland fundraising on their behalf, but they never received any of the money.
Townley eventually went to ground – at one point promising to answer the Spectator face-to-face over the allegations he faced, only to chicken out at the last minute – and NICVA set up a fund to help the groups he’d left out of pocket.
He later resurfaced running a bogus photography course in Belfast, earning a prison sentence for his trouble.
On his release he adopted the name Ashraf Islam, claiming to have undergone a jailhouse conversion to become a Muslim.
Sporting a shaven head, tattoos and a long beard, he claimed to be in the process of setting up a pornography business and said that he only followed the bits of his newfound religion that he liked.