Agent jailed for 1½ years for conning Queen's composer out of £500,000

THE former agent for the Queen's official composer was jailed for 18 months yesterday for siphoning off more than £500,000 of the musician's money.

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who ranks among the world's most eminent composers, was left so distressed by the discovery of the missing money that he was temporarily unable to compose.

Michael Arnold, 76, a self-confessed gambler, acted as Sir Peter's agent for more than 30 years and was entrusted with handling his finances.

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But he began taking money from the musician in 1990 and his crime only came to light 16 years later when Sir Peter tried to withdraw money from a cash machine but found he had insufficient funds.

Arnold, who walks with a stick, pleaded guilty to false accounting involving 522,333 in September.

Passing sentence at Kingston Crown Court in London, Judge Nicholas Jones said he had taken the defendant's age and "ill health" into account but added: "Clearly, your false accounting was so serious that a considerable sentence is merited."

Arnold, wearing a dark suit and glasses, sat with his head bowed as the sentence was handed down. He was later assisted from the dock.

Earlier, the court heard how Sir Peter lived a life of isolation in Orkney. He was "not a worldly man" and had given complete control of his bank accounts to the defendant, said Justin Cole, prosecuting.

"He was not interested in the material world and was more interested in his music," Mr Cole added.

As agents, Arnold and his wife, Judith, 73, never disclosed the full amount of Sir Peter's real earnings. But the Queen's composer should have been receiving "hundreds of thousands a year", Mr Cole said.

Instead, he was given an annual allowance of 25,000.

Arnold's lawyer told the court the missing money had been used to pay for his sick brother's care and he had intended to pay it back.

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The court heard how the Arnolds developed a close relationship with the musician over time, eventually becoming friends. But this was to fall apart in 2006 when Sir Peter found he was unable to withdraw 40 from a cashpoint on Orkney.

The composer, who accepted he was "not good with money", realised immediately that something was wrong and informed his agent he would contact an accountant. The revelation prompted Arnold to draft a "partial confession" in a letter to the composer, setting out his crime – "a simple fraud which was not complex in its design or effect", Mr Cole said.

But his admission was just the "tip of the iceberg," prosecutors alleged.

Arnold pleaded guilty on 8 September to false accounting between 1990 and 2006. A charge of stealing 447,000 from the composer made against the couple was dropped at an earlier stage.

Mrs Arnold, who was in court to support her husband, said the couple had been "devoted" to Sir Peter. "The idea was to make life as easy as possible for him. Both of us did everything we could for him," she said.

"Even now, with all of these unfortunate happenings, we are still passionately devoted to getting the pieces of music and listening to them. There is nobody like him."

Arnold's solicitor, Laurence Lee, said he would be lodging an appeal against the sentence.

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