Ticket tout’s barrister says prisons ‘at breaking point’ as he asks for leniency

General view and stock images from inside Swansea Prison, Wales.
UK prisons are dangerously full -Credit:WalesOnline/Rob Browne

A barrister representing a woman who masterminded a multi-million-pound ticket-touting fraud has urged a judge to be lenient, saying the prison system was “almost at breaking point”. Guy Gozem KC referenced the current political debate about prison overcrowding at the sentencing hearing for Maria Chenery-Woods, whose Norfolk-based touting firm TQ Tickets Ltd sold tickets worth more than £6.5 million on secondary ticketing sites over two-and-a-half years.

Chenery-Woods, who referred to herself as Ticket Queen, is being sentenced at Leeds Crown Court along with her husband, Mark Woods; her sister Lynda Chenery; and Chenery’s former husband, Paul Douglas. In his mitigation speech, Mr Gozem said Chenery-Woods had been waiting to find out her fate since she was arrested in December 2017 and he then made an apparent reference to the Ministry of Justice’s Operation Early Dawn – an emergency measure to tackle prison overcrowding.

He told Judge Simon Batiste: “I invite you to accept that you are sentencing a broken woman who has suffered for her own wrong-doing for more than six years. All of this at a time when we’re reminded that prisons are more than just full. They are almost at breaking point, as the initiative this morning seems to confirm.”

The KC told the judge: “These are non-violent, non-sexual, non-frightening offences.”

Mr Gozem said the offences “do not come anywhere near the top” of the list of offences that require an immediate custodial sentence. He told the court a pre-sentence probation report had found there was no chance of his client re-offending and there was no ongoing risk of “harm to the public”.

Mr Gozem said Chenery-Woods had been left “completely shattered” and suffered from depression and anxiety as well as alcoholism and drug dependency. Chenery-Woods and Douglas admitted fraudulent trading but Chenery and Woods pleaded not guilty and were convicted by a jury earlier this year.

That jury heard how TQ Tickets used multiple identities, some fake, to buy large numbers of tickets for high-profile music events such as Ed Sheeran, Lady Gaga and Little Mix concerts on primary sites, including Ticketmaster. The firm would then resell the tickets – often at vastly inflated prices – on secondary ticketing platforms such as Viagogo.

Prosecutors said one of the identities used was a dead relative of Chenery-Woods and Chenery and another was a 10-year-old boy. During the trial, the jury heard statements from Sheeran’s manager Stuart Camp and promoter Stuart Galbraith, who described the “extensive measures” they went to as they tried to prevent the re-selling of tickets at inflated prices for the singer’s 2018 UK stadium tour.

Following the verdicts, Mr Galbraith said: “Today’s verdict is good news for live music fans, who are too often ripped off and exploited by greedy ticket touts.”

The case of those involved with TQ Tickets follows an almost identical prosecution by National Trading Standards of a married couple who ran the London-based firm BZZ. BZZ’s Peter Hunter and David Smith were jailed for four years and two and a half years respectively in February 2020, following a landmark trial, and they were subsequently ordered to pay back more than £6.2 million by the court.

Jurors in the TQ Tickets trial heard that Chenery-Woods was the driving force behind the company. They were told that the actions of the firm, which included speculatively listing tickets for sale before they had even sourced them, sometimes led to fans being refused entry to venues or with poorer tickets than they paid for.

The jury heard that in the period June 2015 to December 2017, the firm had sales in excess of £6.5 million on secondary ticket platforms. The firm bought 47,000 tickets during that period, using 127 names and 187 different email addresses.

In a message shown to the jury, Douglas said to Chenery-Woods that the purpose of the business is to “simply rinse consumers for as much profit as they are willing to pay”.

Chenery, 52, and Woods, 60, both of Dickleburgh, near Diss, Norfolk, were found guilty of three counts of fraudulent trading. Chenery-Woods, 54, also of Dickleburgh, and Douglas, 57, of Pulham Market, Norfolk, admitted the same offences. The hearing continues on Thursday but Judge Batiste said it is likely that he will not sentence the four defendants until Friday.