Victim of conman reveals how she was driven to the brink of suicide

‘I’ve lost £850,000. All I have left now is the wedding dress I never wore’: Victim of silver-tongued conman Mark Acklom reveals how she was driven to the brink of suicide after he ripped her life apart

  • Mother-of-two Carolyn Woods first met the fraudster Mark Acklom in 2012
  • But less than a year later he had drained her of her £850,000 life savings  
  • Said ‘I’m just glad it’s all over’ as Acklom was jailed for five years after trial 

Still hanging on the back of her door is the designer wedding gown Carolyn Woods never wore. It is all she has left following her relationship with Mark Acklom.

The mother of two first met the fraudster in 2012, when he went into the boutique she worked at in Tetbury, Gloucestershire. 

But less than a year later, in what divorcee Miss Woods, 61, says was ‘an act of the utmost cruelty’, he had drained her of her £850,000 life savings, as well as ‘life as I knew it’.

Carolyn Woods, (left) who was conned by Mark Acklom, and the wedding gown she never wore (right) 

Yesterday, shortly after Acklom, 45, was jailed for more than five years, a tearful Miss Woods hugged her daughters and friends telling them: ‘I’m just glad it’s all over.’

A judge was told she had been suicidal and considering ‘ending it completely’ after Acklom’s cruel actions left her ‘restricted to little more than survival’.

In a highly emotional victim impact statement read to Bristol Crown Court, Miss Woods said: ‘Mark Acklom acted deliberately, and in the most calculated, premeditated way, to defraud me of all my money and nearly all my personal possessions, and to deprive me of my home and my job, thereby rendering me totally helpless and at his mercy.

‘He also deliberately isolated me from my family and friends, and played psychological games to deceive me and engender a sense of fear in me.

‘It was an act of the utmost cruelty, designed to destroy my life for his personal gain. My life, as I knew it, has indeed been destroyed, and it has only been the love of my two daughters that has prevented me from ending it completely.

‘They, too, have been deeply affected by what has happened to me. I have felt condemned to a life that I don’t want and I grieve for the life I once had.’

The pair had met in January 2012, when they struck up a conversation in Qetty Bang Bang, the Cotswolds boutique where Miss Woods worked.

Introducing himself as Mark Conway – and 19 years her junior – he claimed to be a Swiss banker visiting the UK as he was involved in a takeover of Cotswold Airport. He also told her he worked for MI6, claming he was often posted on ‘dangerous missions’.

‘He held my gaze and I felt slightly flustered,’ Miss Woods recalled. ‘He asked me if I had the jacket in the window in his size and he tried it on.

‘He asked me my name and whether I was married. He was very direct.

‘He was supremely confident but I didn’t think much about it. I just thought he was attractive and successful.’

Conman Mark Acklom first met Carolyn Woods at her boutique in Gloucestershire on January 19, 2012 

That evening, Acklom plagued her with text messages. Miss Woods agreed to meet the persuasive stranger the following night at the Hare and Hounds hotel in nearby Westonbirt – although at this stage she remained cautious.

‘I walked into the library – it was only the two of us there – and there was a fire burning. “You look lovely,” he said, before offering me a glass of pink champagne.

‘We chatted for a couple of hours and he told me that he had flown in from Geneva specially. He told me he had been born into a very wealthy family but he had always worked for everything.

‘He claimed that he spoke seven languages, flew his own plane and had a photographic memory. At the end of the evening, he said, “So what do you think I really do?” I replied, “I think you’re a secret agent.”

‘He walked me to my car and before I knew it, he had one hand up my dress and the other down it saying, “I want you so much and you know you want it too.” ’

The following day, Acklom made a spontaneous visit to her home: ‘I was wearing jeans and walking boots when he phoned to say, “I’ve got to see you. What’s your address?” I thought, “He can take me as he finds me. I won’t change because there’s no way I am taking my clothes off.” ’

Within minutes Acklom had stripped off. ‘I told him to get dressed but he didn’t,’ she said. ‘I’ve never behaved like that before but I thought, “Seize the moment. Have a bit of fun.” ’

Over the next month, Acklom took her to Cotswold Airport to ‘show her his fleet of aeroplanes’ – which he did not own. He drove her to London to see the ‘MI6 office’ where he worked.

‘I was left in the car with his driver while he walked in through a back entrance, past two armed guards,’ she recalls. ‘It was convincing. He very quickly had me completely under his control. One of my daughters thought I had been brainwashed.’

Behind bars: Acklom in custody

By February that year, Miss Woods had proposed to the apparently charming Acklom.

Charles Thomas, prosecuting, told the court: ‘It is clear that Carolyn Woods was frankly swept off her feet by this man. He was charming, he was single and he was successful.’

Acklom falsely claimed to have connections to a number of well-known figures, including broadcaster Chris Evans, celebrity hairdresser Nicky Clarke, Hillary Clinton and fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld.

With a wedding on the cards, Miss Woods spent £6,000 on a Caroline Castigliano wedding dress, which she had altered and still has to this day.

After learning that Acklom was having cash-flow difficulties, she rearranged her finances and opened a new account with Barclays.

She then began transferring money into an account that was in the name of an associate of Acklom’s. She thought she was funding renovations on a property Acklom claimed to own.

In truth, the cash was partly funding the £9,500-a-month rent on the extensive Georgian property in Brock Street, Bath, they now shared – and which she believed was wholly owned by him. The rest of the money funded Acklom’s jet-set lifestyle.

The cruel con left Miss Woods in ‘total financial ruin’. At one stage, to stave off being ‘hounded’ by debt collectors and to continue to pay the bills, she had to cash in her pension and borrow money from friends and family.

By Christmas 2012, Acklom had cleaned out her bank account but claimed he had been kidnapped by MI6, who wanted him to return to Syria, and was in a military hospital in Athens with gunshot wounds to his arm.

In January 2013, she moved out of their house in Bath to stay with friends as she could no longer afford the rent. By this time, Acklom had vanished.

Miss Woods said: ‘I have always taken a pride in my personal presentation but… now my life is restricted to little more than survival.

‘I have suffered sexual and emotional violation that has resulted in a loss of pride and self-worth.

‘Initially, when I discovered the truth, I felt bereaved. It was as though the man I fell in love with had died.

‘What I had to get my head around was the fact that the man I fell in love with never actually existed, he was the fictitious creation of Mark Acklom. I have felt deeply betrayed and have suffered a loss of identity.’

Teenage swindler: Mark Acklom in 1991 at the house he got a £466,000 mortgage

Miss Woods was flanked by her daughters, friends and other members of her family in a packed public gallery to see Acklom sentenced.

Worried about being in the same room as him, she entered the court at the last possible minute, supported by staff from Avon and Somerset Police and the Crown Prosecution Service.

In her victim impact statement, she described the devastating psychological effects of Acklom’s actions – she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

‘I find that I am very emotional and prone to mood swings, much of the time struggling with feelings of deep depression,’ she said.

‘I have suffered from both agoraphobia and claustrophobia, sometimes feeling too frightened to go out and at other times feeling terrified of being trapped.

‘Physically I feel as though I have aged a good 15 years. A doctor I saw in the summer of 2013 told me I was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

‘People I know well think of me as a strong person. I used to be happy, confident and sociable but I now find it very difficult to trust anyone and have become reclusive.

‘I have a fear of being watched and followed and don’t want anyone to know where I am or what I am doing. I live in fear. My world has shrunk to almost nothing and I feel totally messed up inside.

‘Along with everything else, I feel I have lost myself.

‘I feel a tremendous sense of injustice and I can only hope that, in the course of time, justice will prevail and that the perpetrator of this assault against my very being will be punished accordingly, and stopped from destroying any more lives in the way in which he has destroyed mine.’

Jailed at last, the fake spy who tricked divorcee out of her life savings 

A serial conman who posed as a Swiss banker and a spy to swindle a divorcee out of her life savings has finally been jailed after spending years on the run.

Lifelong fraudster Mark Acklom, 45, admitted duping mother-of-two Carolyn Woods, 61, out of nearly £300,000 while pretending he was going to marry her.

Acklom, who was already married, has a long list of previous convictions and at one point was Britain’s most wanted conman. He tricked Miss Woods into lending him £299,564, which she believed was for renovation work on a property he claimed to own.

Acklom pictured with his wife Maria Yolanda Ros Rodriguez, known as Yolanda Ros, in Ascot’s Royal Enclosure

In fact, he spent the money on a £60,000 Porsche, trips to London and purchases from Harrods before fleeing abroad. He also used it to pay rent of £9,500 a month at the Georgian manor they shared in Bath. Yesterday Acklom was jailed for five years and eight months but Bristol Crown Court heard that his victim is unlikely to see a penny of her money.

Acklom faced 20 charges and had initially been accused of pocketing £850,000 of Miss Woods’ savings. He pleaded guilty to five offences and will not face trial for the remaining 15 but they will remain on the file.

Judge Martin Picton told Acklom he took ruthless advantage of Miss Woods: ‘It is plain that once you knew what you might glean from her, you set about doing so in a ruthless and utterly selfish manner. You were quite prepared to spin a web of lies, and you cared not at all for the emotional impact. The money you did get from her slipped through your fingers like water. Having cut ties from her, you escaped from this country, and since then you have not made any effort to make good the harm that you did.’

A European Arrest Warrant was issued for Acklom in June 2016 when he was believed to be in Spain, having been released from a Spanish prison over a £200,000 property fraud.

In May 2017, the hunt switched to Switzerland after he was photographed at a Geneva cafe by one of his alleged victims, who spotted him by chance.

In July 2018, Acklom was caught while trying to flee his luxury apartment in Wadenswil, near Zurich. He leapt from a first-floor balcony as police raided the rented £1million property, where he was living with his wife Maria Yolanda Ros Rodriguez and their two young daughters, but an officer was waiting below and arrested him.

Acklom first appeared in court in 1990 as a teenager, accused of taking a credit card from a woman he lived with.

A year later, aged 18, he was sent to a young offender institution for crimes he had committed aged 16. He posed as a stockbroker and convinced a building society to give him a £466,000 mortgage.

He also stole his father’s American Express gold card and used it to shop at Harrods, lunch at the Savoy, hire a limousine and party at Stringfellows club.

He has since been jailed for fraud in the UK and in Spain. He has used a series of aliases including Marc Ros Rodriguez, Dr Zac Moss, Mark Conway, George Kennedy, Marc Saunders and Marco Rossi, while claiming to be a barrister, property developer, event manager and a gynaecologist.

Acklom’s lawyer Gudrun Young said he ‘acknowledged in full’ his crimes against Miss Woods and the ‘devastating impact’ they had.

‘He was genuinely romantically involved with her at the beginning and was hoping to pursue a relationship as he and his wife were having marital difficulties,’ she said. ‘He is not the first man to behave in this way and he will not be the last.’

Attempting to justify his behaviour, she added: ‘It is not every day a fraudster uses money from his victim to house them in a Georgian manor.’

The location of Acklom’s wife and children, aged eight and nine, is not known. However Miss Young told the judge he is ‘very keen’ to return to Spain.

Outside court, senior investigating officer Detective Superintendent Gary Haskins said: ‘Mark Acklom is a career criminal and a master manipulator who cared little about the emotional devastation he was leaving in his wake. On the surface, Acklom was charming, affluent and successful. Underneath he was calculating, scheming and obsessive about money’.

Former Detective Inspector Adam Bunting, who led the team that ultimately tracked Acklom down, said: ‘He was an expert at covering his tracks.

‘While I’m pleased he has finally admitted his lies and saved Carolyn from having to give evidence in court, a leopard doesn’t change its spots.’

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