Henry Lyttel, aged 29, of Ashbourne Road, Mackworth Village, near Derby, admitted 3 charges relating to his business, Croft Militaria Ltd, which he ran from his home address.
The charges, which he admitted at an earlier hearing on 27 May 2020 were of:
- running a fraudulent business
- supplying a poppy pin badge that was in breach of a trade mark held by the Royal British Legion, and:
- having in his possession for supply, badges with the poppy emblem in breach of a trade mark.
At Derby Crown Court today (Tues 9 June 2020), Judge Jonathan Bennett sentenced Lyttel to 2 years in prison, suspended for 18 months, and ordered him to carry out 100 hours of unpaid work in the next 12 months for his crimes. He was also disqualified from acting as a director of a company for 5 years and had a curfew imposed for 6 months.
Judge Bennett said that Lyttel was 'responsible for a sophisticated and professional operation’, was 'motivated by dishonesty and money’, and had ‘exploited the heroism and gallantry of soldiers’. He added that Lyttel had 'made profit by exploiting the good work of the Royal British Legion and the good causes they support’.
Our trading standards officers began investigating Lyttel and his company in 2016 following complaints from medal collectors across the country.
Complaints received were that Lyttel, who had a company website and was trading online as 'badgeman2005’, was selling fake gallantry medals and military badges, including Military Crosses and Distinguished Flying Crosses, along with pin badges bearing the poppy emblem, which is trademarked by the Royal British Legion.
Trading standards officers subsequently carried out test purchases via eBay.
Experts in military awards, including military historian and medal expert Mark Smith (MA OMRS), examined the medals, and a poppy pin badge was examined by the Royal British Legion, to establish whether or not they were fake.
After examining the poppy pin badge, the Royal British Legion (RBL) said the poppy pins infringed their registered trade mark and that by selling badges that were unauthorised, the company would be making a profit at the expense of a charity set up to raise funds for ex-servicemen and their families. The RBL also confirmed that Croft Militaria Ltd was not authorised to use the poppy emblem and had never made any contribution to the charity.
As the complex investigation continued, trading standards officers established that Lyttel had purchased medal collections from auctions where a set of medals attributed to an Officer were for sale.
He would research the Officer and find that they had been awarded a particular award for gallantry, such as a Military Cross, but the actual medal was not included in the set for sale.
The missing medal would then be manufactured and aged to vastly inflate the value of the set of medals. One example found was for a collection of 6 medals sold to Lyttel at an auction for £320 in February 2016.
The listing showed that the recipient of the medals was also awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) but that medal was not part of the lot being auctioned. The subsequent eBay listing from Croft Militaria Ltd shows the same medal set with a Distinguished Flying Cross added and the price listed was £2,500, a profit of £2,180.
When trading standards officers searched Lyttel’s address they found a large scale and sophisticated operation set up to manufacture military medals such as the ones being sold via eBay.
Dies for striking blank copy medals, struck but unfinished medals and materials to age and distress the medals being made were seized along with a large number of poppy pin badges.
Gallantry medals that were being sold by the company were not being described as copies or replicas and were being manufactured from genuine materials, such as silver, and struck in an identical process to that which would be used by the Royal Mint. They were then being treated which oxidising chemicals to make them look very old, giving them the outward appearance as being from around the time of the First and Second World Wars. The high prices the medals were marketed at also gave the impression that they were the genuine articles.
Trading standards officers, working with military medal experts, estimated that Lyttel’s business made in excess of £72,000 in sales of fake medals and around £10,000 in the sale of fake poppy pin badges.
At today’s sentencing, Judge Bennett also commended Derbyshire County Council and our trading standards officers for the `painstaking and potentially complex investigation’. He told the court he had been ‘very impressed with the thoroughness of the investigation at a time when trading standards are often criticised for a lack of ability and funding’ and that credit should also go to the county council for allowing their officers to continue with the investigation’.
Derbyshire County Council Cabinet Member for Health and Communities Councillor Carol Hart said:
“This is a truly despicable crime and I welcome the sentence passed down by the Judge.
“The Royal British Legion and its volunteers work tirelessly to raise money and support our armed forces veterans and by selling poppy pin badges as the genuine article, Lyttel has literally taken money straight from their coffers, which I find reprehensible.
“He has also taken the names of armed forces heroes who have been awarded the highest honours for their bravery and used them to sell fake medals and profit from their efforts.
“Not only has he faked these medals, but he has also led people buying them in good faith to part with thousands of pounds, thinking they were getting the genuine article.”
Councillor Hart added:
“This was a complex investigation carried out over many, many hours by our trading standards officers and I’m glad the sentence reflects their hard work in bringing this person to justice and ensuring that the public are protected from this type of rogue trading.”
Military historian Mark Smith said:
“After accompanying a dawn raid by police and trading standards I was amazed to find what can only be described as a medal factory. A shed in the garden contained hundreds of faked medals, cap badges, shoulder titles and helmet plates. It was an incredible array of exceptional quality fakes, covering many regiments and units from all ages – literally hundreds of them.
“I was appalled as this undermines the medal and badge collecting hobby, and deprives collectors of hard earned money for out and out fakes. More importantly it is stealing the memory of very gallant servicemen who had fought, possibly been wounded and in some cases died.
“The most depressing realisation was that this was well thought through and researched. There are, alas, many groups, cap badges, shoulder titles and helmet plates in many collections that are just simply fake thanks to Croft Militaria.”
Proceeds of crime proceedings will now be started to try to recover the money made by Lyttel and Croft Militaria Ltd.