A WIRRAL businessman who ruthlessly ripped-off 127 elderly investors has been sentenced to four years in prison and banned from being a company director for five years.

Many of the victims gathered in court today to see sentence passed.

Judge Christopher Cornwall told them: "I understand the real harm that you have suffered and I am only too conscious that the harm will continue after today."

Wallasey man Malcolm Barber was found guilty of two counts of fraudulent trading and one count of carrying out an unauthorised investment business following an eight-week trial at Preston Crown Court in November.

It took a jury less than four hours to return guilty verdicts against 70-year-old Barber, of Links View.

In all, he and accomplice Terry Warrington - who pleaded guilty to similar charges and one of theft before Barber's trial and was sentenced to four and a half years in prison today as well as being banned from being a company director for five years - left their largely elderly investors in their Gentry IT and Dublin CF businesses collectively out of pocket by a staggering £5m.

The pair were charged with the offences following a four-year investigation into their involvement in two investment and loan companies between December 2002 and August 2010.

Barber denied participating in a fraudulent business, claiming he did not play a management role at the companies during that time.

But Judge Cornwall said he did not believe that was the case.

He said he was sympathetic with Barber's victims and knew the prison sentence would provide little comfort to them.

The court heard personal impact statements from close to 30 victims, statements which Judge Cornwall said he had read every word of and found them "heartbreaking".

Wirral Globe: Victim Eileen Dunn described how she only discovered the money was gone in 2010 when she began the process of sorting out the affairs of her late husband Michael.

Eileen Dunn welcomed custodial sentences

One of Barber's victims, Eileen Dunn, only discovered her money was gone in 2010 when she began the process of sorting out the affairs of her late husband Michael, who died in December 2009.

Mrs Dunn, who sought the return of thousands of pounds but was continually fobbed off by the pair, told the Globe today she was "delighted" to see "justice done".

She said: "I am delighted to see them go down. I think the sentence is good.

"They won't be coming home to their families tonight, or for a few nights.

"It won't bring the money back, but  for now it is closure.

"Justice has been done."

Susan Waugh, from Wallasey, chose to read her statement out to the court, telling how she had invested with Barber in 1989.

She told how she had received her income from bonds with Gentry and later Dublin until 2008, when she and husband John began having problems with late and eventually missed payments.

Mrs Waugh said the stress of the last five years had put a strain on her marriage and that she no longer had anything to look forward to or feel happy about.

She is on medication for the anxiety caused and was almost sectioned because of the emotional damage the ordeal has caused.

"I should not be in this state because of him," said Mrs Waugh, who also explained that Barber had started using the same allotment as she and her husband.

She added: "I just want to enjoy being at the allotments but this year has been anything but."

Detective Superintendent Jason Hudson, head of operations at Titan, said today: "Terry Warrington and Malcolm Barber are fraudsters who promised the earth to people but delivered very little.

"Their investors were often people enjoying the later stages of life who wanted to make the money that they had earned from a lifetime of hard work and financial prudence last a little bit longer.

"It was a classic case of the defendants 'robbing Peter to pay Paul'.

"Despite having a £2m black hole in their finances and being insolvent, they continued to dupe investors into handing over more cash for the promise of returns that were never going to be achievable.

"Both men are responsible for a great deal of heartache and financial devastation suffered by dozens of people from both Merseyside and Lancashire, including some who actually regarded Warrington and Barber as their trusted friends."

Judge Cornwall described Barber and Warrington as conducting an "elaborate exercise to conceal the truth" from the investors who, for the most part, had hoped the money would help secure a comfortable life after retirement and allow them to provide for their children.

He said the businesses had been "effectively crippled" after they had to pay £400,000 in unpaid tax after the Inland Revenue said they were liable to abide with UK tax laws, despite moving the businesses offshore to the Isle of Man in the early-1990s.

Judge Cornwall added:"Some of the investors are now in their 80s and find that the problems that come with growing old are made more difficult to bare with the constant anxiety that many of them feel for the understandable reasons about their financial situations."

He said many would now be unable to fulfil their ambitions of helping towards their children's university education or the purchase of their first home.

Both Barber and Warrington will serve half of their sentence before being released on license for the remaining time.