IT was described by a judge as a "bold and audacious fraud" - but a £4.3 million attempt to steal from a bank in Dublin and transfer the cash to Spain failed and led to York businessman Paul Blanchard snr being jailed for more than six years.

Blanchard, 61, of Heslington, and previously of Fulford, masterminded the scam, along with a £375,000 money laundering operation and a bid to obtain a British passport under a false name for a woman.

Jailed along with him were his "Mr Fixit" Simon Eldritch, 32, of Clifton, for four years, and disgraced solicitor and former mayor of Selby, Chris Eyre, 54, of Selby, who received two years in prison.

The Press has finally been able to reveal the huge international conspiracy after reporting restrictions were lifted after nearly a year of legal hearings and trials.

"It was a bold and audacious fraud which very nearly succeeded", Judge Simon Lawler QC said of the £4.3 million deception conspiracy headed by Blanchard snr, involving a German bank in Dublin and a Spanish bank in Marbella, on the Costa del Sol in Spain.

In March 2003, under Blanchard snr's direction, Eldritch opened a bank account in Spain over the phone with a small deposit and warned staff he was expecting a much bigger one.

On June 11, £4.3 million was fraudulently diverted from an account of a technology company held by the Deutsche Bank in Dublin; and on June 12, Eldritch arrived at the Spanish bank with documents forged by Eyre supporting his lies that it was a loan from that technology company.

In reality he had nothing to do with the company. The bank refused to let him have the money that day and the next until the transfer was confirmed.

But the technology company realised that its name was being used wrongly, and sent its investigator to check at Eyre's Selby office.

There Eyre, recruited to give a professional legal look to the con, and Blanchard snr attempted to put them off the scent. But on June 16, the bank learned that the transfer was dodgy and the authorities were alerted.

All three pleaded guilty to bank fraud.

Blanchard snr also headed a £375,000 money laundering scheme involving several accomplices, including his Clifton sidekick Eldritch, but not Eyre.

In this, the courts heard how conspirators, including Eldritch, met at Blanchard snr's office in late 2003, where Eldritch drew up a fake document claiming that a yacht deal had taken place, to cover for £375,000 of stolen cash.

The conspirators, headed by Blanchard snr, were attempting to launder the money, which had been in a Natwest bank account in England where a crook, masquerading as the account owner, had transferred it to another bank on October 16. It ended up in Spain, where the conspirators opened various bank accounts for it and withdrew it.

Blanchard snr and Eldritch both pleaded guilty to money laundering.

All three were involved when Blanchard snr and his partners attempted to con the Passport Agency into issuing a British passport under a false name to a Romanian woman. In summer 2003, Eldritch persuaded Clifton mother-of-two Jane Lancaster to lend him her birth certificate for £100.

Desperate for cash, she agreed, and was later shocked to discover that it had been used to support a passport application from a Romanian woman who had outstayed her visa.

The Romanian claimed she had been born in York and had changed her name from Lancaster. Christopher Eyre countersigned the application, and when the Passport Agency queried it, lulled their suspicions with an official solicitors' letter. Blanchard snr, who knew the Romanian, delivered the passport to her.

"Blanchard is the key person in this," prosecution barrister Sam Mainds told a jury in Sheffield Crown Court about the passport fraud. "Eldritch was really his gopher, who was told to do things. Eyre was his solicitor and had been for a number of years."

Eyre admitted his guilt, but Blanchard snr and Eldritch denied it, and were both convicted after a trial.

Throughout it all Blanchard snr jetted back and forth between England and Spain and he used his York office for crucial meetings.

The self-styled international corporate consultant, who had convictions for fraud in the 1990s too, lived a globe-trotting lifestyle, travelling to the US and elsewhere.

He even ran smaller frauds back in York.

Mr Mainds said of a £12,500 fraud against a couple in Cliffe, near Selby: "Blanchard is a criminal. He is also a conman that was able to recruit Eric Jackson to work for him.

"He was going to be going out to carry out Blanchard's will and con people. Jackson was paid £6,000 a month. Blanchard is a different kettle of fish altogether."

Financial advisor Mr Jackson, 60, of The Meadows, Riccall, denied deception, and a jury at Sheffield Crown Court acquitted him after hearing how he had repeatedly pressed Blanchard snr about what he had done with the couple's money.

Blanchard snr admitted his guilt, and this was also taken into account when he was sentenced.

The friendship that led a decent sort of bloke' to a life as a conman's fixer

A SCHOOL friendship led to Simon Eldritch becoming a fraudster's Mr Fixit and a conman in his own right.

While on bail awaiting trial for the international Blanchard senior frauds, the 32-year-old crook was continuing his own scam on York property businessman Malcolm Simpson.

In 2004, he befriended him and won a job as company secretary from him. Then he wrote out cheques of up to £11,000 for his own use on the company chequebook without his boss' knowledge. He got away with nearly £26,500 over two years.

"He is a liar and a conman," Mr Simpson said. "He came over as a decent sort of bloke."

Eldritch's barrister, Harold Crowson, said he got to know Paul Blanchard snr because he was at school with Blanchard's son, also Paul, who is now a York city councillor.

Eldritch, 32, only got involved in crime because of his connection with Blanchard snr.

"He looked up to him and he regarded him as a father figure and a mentor," said Mr Crowson.

To the young conman, Blanchard senior appeared to have a very successful life. But the reality was very different, and Blanchard senior later used Eldritch as an "expendable" buffer between himself and the crimes.

But Judge Simon Lawler QC told Eldritch: "In my judgement, you were his willing first lieutenant. You were more than willing to assist. You knew what was involved."

The 32-year-old had involved a "perfectly innocent lady", whom he persuaded to hand over her birth certificate so the Romanian could claim it as her own in the passport conspiracy and he had created a "fairly clever device" of a forged document to further the money laundering conspiracy.

Father-of-three Eldritch was in prison on remand when his third child was born, and is getting medical treatment for health problems at Doncaster Prison.

When a pillar of the community' came to fall

HE WAS a former mayor of Selby, a "pillar of the community" and a lay preacher.

But Christopher Eyre was also a crooked solicitor who was happy to use his legal status to support Paul Blanchard senior's multi-million pound international fraud, money laundering and a passport con.

Today the 54-year-old disgraced former lawyer, who was mayor in the town in 1988, is starting two years in prison - his second time behind bars.

In 1997, he was jailed for eight months, and served a number of weeks before his conviction for helping a planning officer fiddle his relocation expenses was quashed on appeal.

"You knew Blanchard well and you were ready, it seems, to do his bidding when required," Judge Simon Lawler QC told Eyre. "Your abuse of your professional position is an aggravating feature here.

"You are in many ways a broken man professionally, in poor health, physically and mentally. Your financial circumstances are very precarious."

Eyre's barrister, Gary Bell, said his client's life fell apart in 1997 when he was jailed.

The period he spent in jail then drove him to heavy drinking and he developed psychiatric problems.

"In prison Eyre was very vulnerable and he suffered every possible indignity it is possible for a man in prison to suffer," said Mr Bell.

His firm's practice failed, and he tried to kill himself by taking an overdose with a bottle-and-a-half of vodka.

"He remained alive, to live a life in ruins," said Mr Bell.

Blanchard snr and Eldritch took advantage of his state and tempted him into crime.

He was promised riches if the frauds worked, but never received a penny.

Nor did he get any money for the passport con.

His house had been used as surety to get money for psychiatric help, he had run up debts and his firm had £160,000 debts.

In 1997, Truro Crown Court heard that the planning officer falsely claimed he had spent £1,840 in legal fees when selling a house in north Humberside and used a letter and invoice from Eyre to support his claim. But the house had not been sold.

* Eyre's family firm, Eyre & Co, was closed down by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority in 2005 on grounds of incapacity.

Son says great dad' is paying heavy price

Paul Blanchard snr's son - also Paul - is a York city councillor for the Heworth ward.

Today Coun Blanchard said: "This is obviously terrible for us as a family, but my father has been in prison for nearly a year now, so we came to terms with it many months ago.

"In a way, I am quite philosophical about it. I have friends whose fathers have died, but at least I know mine is coming back in a year or so.

"I'm grateful for that.

"I love my father very much.

"He has always been a great dad to me and like any good son, I will always stand beside him with pride. Like many people in life, he has had his ups and downs, and knowing him as I do, I am certain he will bounce back from this.

"I think for every vote I have lost for sharing my father's name, I have gained two.

"Since the 1970s, he has always been one of York's more colourful characters, and has many friends, who I know will be there for him upon his release.

"Anyone can make a mistake in life and choose the wrong path. He is paying a heavy price for his mistakes, but he is a fundamentally good man.

"He has admitted his his guilt and is now paying his debt to society.

"I don't think anything more can be said."

How The Press was able to tell the story

THIS is the story that crooked businessman Paul Blanchard snr didn't want publishing - his multi-million pound international fraud industry.

For nearly a year, the fraudster has blocked any publication of how he was a big-time hustler and conman, using a string of accomplices to further his money-grabbing plans.

Shortly after his arrest, he went public to declare: "I'm totally innocent of all the charges. I will fight to clear my name and I'm certain that I will be exonerated of any and all wrongdoing."

Paul Blanchard snr, with Simon Eldritch, got the first banning order made in May 2007, when they stood trial for the passport conspiracy.

They said it was the only way to ensure they had fair trials later on the other conspiracies. The day Blanchard snr pleaded guilty to the fraud conspiracies in February, his legal team got another order banning publication of that.

Eldritch was still denying charges at that stage. But as soon as Eldritch was sentenced, The Press's reporter queried the orders with the court - and the Judge Simon Lawler QC gave the go-ahead for the full story to be told.