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Jailed: Multimillion-pound scrap metal business boss who handled stolen jewels

PUBLISHED: 17:37 25 January 2019

Scrap metal dealer Charles Matthews arrives at Southwark Crown Court to be sentenced for handling stolen jewellery worth tens of thousands of pounds. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

Scrap metal dealer Charles Matthews arrives at Southwark Crown Court to be sentenced for handling stolen jewellery worth tens of thousands of pounds. Picture: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

The boss of a multimillion-pound North Woolwich scrap metal business has been jailed for four years and six months for handling stolen jewels worth tens of thousands of pounds.

Charles Matthews, 55, stashed 50 diamonds, carved emeralds and other jewellery which police discovered was stolen in the ceiling of his office.

Judge Joanna Korner QC told Matthews, who was found guilty of handling stolen goods by a jury at Southwark Crown Court this month, that he had been involved in a “serious offence of handling”.

Detectives found the hoard at his business, London City Metals, in August 2015.

The judge told Matthews as he sat quietly in the dock that he could be described as a “professional handler” in the sense that he was “someone who was known to be willing to purchase goods of such a high value”.

The hoard included 50 diamonds valued at about £48,750, a pair of emerald earrings estimated to be worth 40,110 US dollars (about £31,500) and a sapphire, ruby and diamond-encrusted bracelet valued at 11,160 US dollars (about £8,750), the court heard.

Matthews, known as “Chick”, had claimed the jewellery haul was given to him in a wooden box by a friend called James Tibbs, whom he had known for most of his life, but he had no idea it was stolen.

A diamond examining kit was also found on the site, which Matthews claimed belonged to his father.

He also told jurors Mr Tibbs asked him to keep the jewellery in the safe of the scrap metal business over the Christmas 2014 period.

Matthews said it was hidden in a black bag in the ceiling because the time-delay safe broke and he decided not to have it fixed, as his business became mainly cashless following the 2013 Scrap Metal Dealers Act.

The act means dealers can only buy scrap metal by cheque or electronic money transfer. Before that, Matthews estimated around £50,000 to £100,000 in cash was delivered to the site each day and the business paid up to £300,000 in cash per week for metals.

His family has been in the scrap metal business since the 1950s and the company, run with his brother and son, turned over between £10 million and £12 million in 2015 and employed some 35 staff, Matthews said.

Sentencing him today (Friday), the judge told him: “Indeed throughout you have protested your innocence to all of this and given the jury an account which, in my judgment, was wholly unbelievable.”

Matthews was disqualified from running a company for three years and ordered to pay £3,500 in costs.

Prosecutor Philip Evans QC had previously told the court that Matthews was convicted in November 2017, while on bail for the jewellery offence, of racially aggravated common assault and beating. For that, he was handed a suspended jail sentence and told to carry out unpaid work.

Michael Bromley-Martin QC said Matthews, of Virginia Water, Surrey, had undergone a “complete change in his circumstances and his life”.

He described Matthews as “a wealthy man”, who makes “substantial charitable donations”, and has secured £40,000 in sponsorship for a fundraising expedition.

He has responsibility for a stepdaughter who is suffering from a condition that will benefit from the expedition. No details of her illness was given.

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