Edward Davenport: the 'Lord' sent down for investment fraud

Notorious playboy 'Lord' Edward Davenport has just received the ultimate royal invitation - a stay at Her Majesty's pleasure.

In the 1980s, his notorious Gatecrasher Balls struck fear into the hearts of anxious mothers and public school headmasters across the home counties. He went on to become a risqu fixture of the London social scene, renowned for the celebrity-studded bashes he threw at his vast townhouse in Portland Place. But having escaped repeated brushes with the law, "Lord" Edward Davenport, 45, has now received "the ultimate royal invitation", says The Guardian: "an extended stay at Her Majesty's pleasure".

The rakishly charming Davenport described himself as "one of the shrewdest investors around" an image boosted by a Monaco address, a clutch of luxury cars and a wardrobe full of Saville Row suits. Yet he was the "ringmaster" of a multi-million-pound confidence trick, preying on scores of small businesses in desperate need of finance. Through a group of firms called Gresham (unconnected to legitimate wealth manager Gresham Financial), Davenport and his co-conspirators falsely promised to finance more than 50 commercial loans over four years from 2005, raking in £4.5m in "due diligence" fees for cash that never arrived (see below).

Davenport's website suggests he was equally prone to self-deception: the honorary "Lord" moniker is "a term of endearment in reference to his high-class life". In reality, "Fast Eddie" was the son of a Fulham restaurateur who struck it lucky as an organiser of paid parties. "I've been an entrepreneur since I was 16," he told The Sunday Times. "Trendy Londoners and rich country Sloanes they were my market." Gatecrasher events became renowned for scenes of "unbridled lust" among the upper class, says The Sunday Telegraph. By the age of 20, Davenport was reportedly pulling in £250,000 a year. But in 1990 he was convicted of VAT evasion and sentenced to nine months in jail. He only served a fortnight (the sentence was suspended on appeal), later telling Tatler he was "bored" by prison life. "There aren't many parties there."

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The "Draculine" Davenport went on to run several club, bar and property ventures, notes the Evening Standard. But his biggest coup was grabbing a 58-year lease on the sumptuous (if dilapidated) Robert Adam mansion in Portland Place from the war-torn Sierra Leone government in 1999, for just £50,000. It became "not so much a home as a stage set", where Davenport could rehearse his role as a "true English gentleman" and cutting-edge financier, says the Daily Mail. It became the venue for photo shoots, films (most latterly The King's Speech), and decadent parties. According to Davenport's Thai girlfriend, Monthira Sanan-ua, these often morphed into £150-a-night orgies featuring "all sorts of posh, important people... like judges". Presumably Judge Peter Testar who declared Davenport a master scammer as he sent him down for seven years was not among them.

The exquisite good manners' that lured in his prey

"Even though he enjoys his enviable bachelor lifestyle, Davenport's mind is always on business," runs the blurb on his website. "Every risk Edward Davenport ever takes is calculated right down to the most tiny detail." The same is true of his modus operandi as a fraudster, says Simon Bowers in The Guardian. Davenport went to great lengths to distance himself from the "investment" firms he masterminded, usually leaving it to co-conspirators, using multiple aliases, to front the deals. As Judge Testar observed: "He did not leave very many footprints in the snow."

Davenport's career as a fraudster got underway in earnest in 2005 when he bought a shelf company, Gresham Ltd. Bogus accounts, glossy brochures and advertisements in the FT assured would-be clients that the firm had 50 years' experience arranging large-scale commercial loans. Clients, from as far afield as Austria and India, were often property developers. Since many committed huge sums to new projects in the belief they had secured financing, their losses extended way beyond the £4.5m in bogus fees they forfeited. Scores of smaller business people were also caught in Gresham's web, says the Daily Mail including the Princess of Wales's wedding dress designer, Elizabeth Emanuel, who sunk the last of her savings into Davenport's loan scheme.

Davenport, whose calling card was his exquisite good manners, still has his supporters. As Eleanor Mills (a recipient of his hospitality) observes in The Sunday Times: "his entire legal team were shocked that he was convicted". Davenport claims he was unwittingly used as bait by crooked business partners and is appealing. Meanwhile, he's finding consolation among the other inmates. "Eddie... is a hero in prison because of all the TV coverage showing that he knows all the stars like Keira Knightley," reports his girlfriend. "He likes telling them stories."