'Hologram Tam' jailed over counterfeit millions

TO PASSERS-BY, it was an ordinary shopfront in an unremarkable part of Glasgow. Aside from a lucrative niche turning out menus for Asian takeaways, Print Link did little to draw attention to itself.

But now the premises have emerged as the base of one of the most sophisticated counterfeiting operations ever seen in Britain, producing fake banknotes that were found across the country. The operation was so big that the High Court heard the forgers had the ability to destabilise the British economy as part of a network linked with criminals across the UK.

The operation was described by police as "big as it comes". They said the expertise exhibited was "very sophisticated".

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Fake Bank of Scotland 20 notes with a value in excess of 1.2 million and 50 notes with a total value of more than 400,000 were either put into circulation or were about to be distributed.

Police believe the criminals targeted events including football matches as a cover to launder cash.

The gang developed a system which had the potential to produce 1 million in forgeries every two to three hours.

The raid on the premises in St George's Road, Maryhill, in January, uncovered what police said was like a "scene from a film", with blank sheets of paper at one end of the press, the printing plates ready to go and test sheets already produced.

Other raids across the city resulted in the recovery of thousands of pounds of counterfeit euros. There were also fake drivers' licences, passports and other documents.

Yesterday, the gang's mastermind - a man who police said was one of only two capable of executing such a plot - was jailed for more than six years.

Ironically, Thomas "Hologram Tam" McAnea - who began his career printing menus and tickets - and his cohorts were in part caught because of their reputations as brilliant forgers.

One of those close to the investigation described McAnea as a perfectionist who had a "touch of the geek about him".

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In sentencing McAnea and his accomplices, Lord Bracadale told the High Court in Edinburgh that paper money was a vital part of the economy of this and other countries.

"Every day, ordinary people use banknotes to make purchases or engage in financial transactions. It is essential people can have general confidence in a currency, and be confident that banknotes they receive and use to pay for things are genuine," he said.

"The issue of counterfeit notes not only undermines the economy of a country but is likely to result in loss being sustained by innocent people who find themselves in possession of these notes, only to discover they are worthless.

"It is clear Print Link was a centre for the production and distribution of counterfeit Bank of Scotland 20 notes, and facilitated the distribution of counterfeit 50 notes, all on a large scale, in an organised manner with different people having different functions.

"The evidence points to this being part of a sophisticated operation at the top end of the scale of production and distribution. Involvement in such activities must result in a sentence of imprisonment."

Five other men involved in the operation centred on Print Link were also jailed yesterday, for between 15 months and four years. A seventh member of the group, Maria Campbell, 39, escaped a jail term and was ordered to carry out 150 hours of community service.

The court had heard McAnea, 57, of Yoker, Glasgow, was an intelligent man who had been unable to deal with the deaths of two of his children and had taken to drink. Another of his children was a doctor.

"Sadly, you have wasted your talents and abilities," Lord Bracadale said, adding that McAnea would have received an eight-year jail term, but would get less because he had pleaded guilty.

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The case brought to an end a four-month investigation, which was triggered when a bag containing 3 million of unfinished banknotes was found in London.

With operations moving north of the Border in the belief that gangs were paying somebody in Scotland to produce the notes, it was not long before McAnea, a larger-than-life character with a passion for Celtic FC and drink, and already well known for his abilities as a forger, came into the picture.

Graeme Pearson, director-general of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, who had led Operation Fender to bust the racket, described McAnea as a "clever man". He said he had "brought an art" and a "degree of quality" to the counterfeits that had impressed banking officials in the case.

"I think he was one of the more experienced and skilled people in terms of this printing. Had he not been, then I don't think London-based criminals would have accessed him," he said.

Mr Pearson said that the fact the fake Bank of Scotland notes were of such high quality had helped to finger McAnea as a likely suspect: "In terms of clues, he wasn't a bad clue. If you've got Bank of Scotland notes coming up in London and a link somewhere in Scotland, he's obviously going to be in the top ten of names you're going to put together. In fact, you might not have ten on the top ten.

"I've no doubt that there's a touch of the geek about him, that he takes that expertise to the next level and that he sees the challenge of producing banknotes as being a 'sell' in itself."

As far back as 1996, McAnea had been deeply involved in perfecting fake banknotes, which were used to swamp the European football championships in England.

The scheme was nipped in the bud by the police. McAnea was freed as inquiries continued, and promptly set up again at other premises, concentrating on foreign currency. Again, detectives smashed the scam before it got into full swing, and McAnea was given a ten-year prison term.

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However, he won an appeal, because of an error by the judge at his trial, the now retired Lord Cameron, and, ironically, because of a printing error on police search warrants, which had read "1981" instead "1989".

Such was McAnea's sense of humour that when officers raided the shop, a picture of Lord Cameron was pinned on the wall with the words "He's the mann" scrawled underneath.

Despite his apparent cavalier attitude to the law, the forger did not flaunt his success and police are still investigating the whereabouts of the cash he was paid to carry out the work.

Indeed, while the case may be closed, police said a number of criminals had been spotted entering the premises during the surveillance operation and they would "continue to be of interest to us".

Mr Pearson said that identifying the source of the forgeries had been relatively easy, even though the operation was in its early stages.

The four months required to complete the operation had been used to track down the safe houses and distribution network developed by the gang, all of whom were "hit" on the same night.

Mr Pearson said the victims of counterfeiting rackets were the public: "It does have victims. I think, generally speaking, people think it's a bit of a wheeze and it's a bit like a B-picture, one of the old black-and-white films with folk churning out pound notes in the kitchen and everything is hunky dory.

"In actual fact, what we have here are people who are doing it to enable criminal gangs to make profit and that profit is on our backs because we have to earn the cash to replace it."


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COUNTERFEIT operations can pose a threat to the wider economy in three ways. If produced in substantial quantities, fake notes can reduce the value of real money and force an increase in prices - inflation.

They can lead to a loss of trust in paper money. People become suspicious of all note denominations and insist on payment in gold, payment in kind, or some substitute.

Lord Bracadale warned yesterday: "It is essential people can have general confidence in a currency and, in particular, confidence the banknotes they receive and use to pay for things are genuine."

Counterfeiting can also prove lethal for business. Firms are not reimbursed for counterfeits. So the cost of such loss, and the security precautions to tackle counterfeiting, are passed on to customers.