Master of fear: British ‘Guru’ stole £3.6m from terrorised French clan

Members of the V�drines family leave court in Bordeaux. Picture: Getty
Members of the V�drines family leave court in Bordeaux. Picture: Getty
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A CONMAN dubbed “a modern-day Rasputin” has been jailed for eight years for brainwashing three generations of a French noble family, swindling them out of their fortune and chateau.

Thierry Tilly, 48 – who claims he is a British citizen – was sentenced by a court in Bordeaux yesterday.

He became a confidant of the Védrines family in 2000, the court heard. Gradually he came to control their lives, inspiring such terror in his 11 victims, aged 16 to 89, that they isolated themselves in their stately home in France for five years fearing for their lives.

When other family members became suspicious, he persuaded them to move to England where they spent another four years imprisoning themselves in a house in Oxford.

Tilly’s first victim was Ghislaine de Védrines, now 67, who he met while working at her Paris secretarial college in 1999. She “gradually found her self drawn to him” and introduced him to other members of her family, the court heard, in a scenario redolent of the monk Grigori Rasputin’s notorious “seduction’ of the Russian royal family, the Romanovs.

Tilly convinced the family they were the lost descendants of an ancient society called The Balance of the World and were under threat from Freemasons and a paedophile ring. Tilly said he was a secret agent whose job was to protect them from their enemies. He also claimed he was a descendant of the Habsburgs and once “almost” played football for Marseille.

By the year 2000, 87-year-old grandmother Guillemette de Védrines, her three children Philippe, Ghislaine and Charles-Henri, the two brothers’ wives, Brigitte and Christine, and five adult grandchildren were all refusing to leave their Chateau de Monflanquin, in southwest France. Tilly then began selling their belongings and jewellery, and finally even the chateau itself, and stealing up to £3.6 million from bank accounts.

He moved the family to a house in Oxford in 2005, introducing them to his accomplice, Jacques Gonzalez, now 66, who he said was a cousin of King Juan Carlos of Spain and the head of global network of “grandees” who wanted to protect them.

Tilly also told them he knew the number of a bank account that would lead to the lost treasure of the Knights Templar.

When any family member questioned Tilly or Gonzalez, they were brutally punished. Christine de Védrines, 62, said she was locked in a room for several months, deprived of food and beaten.

The family’s ordeal only ended when Ghislaine de Védrines’ journalist husband publicly branded Tilly a charlatan, and gained access to his wife and two children.

Mr Marchand alerted police in France in 2008, but they initially refused to act because there were no legal complaints from the rest of the family.

Tilly was finally arrested in Switzerland in 2009 after Christine escaped in Oxford and made a police complaint.

Gonzalez was arrested a year later in France, when officers found €86,000 in cash, watches and vintage wine in the boot of his BMW 645 sports car.

The court found Tilly guilty of psychological abuse. Gonzalez was convicted of complicity and jailed for four years.

“Eight years is a small price to pay for what he did to our family and children,” Christine de Védrines said after sentencing. “The trial is behind us and we will do everything to rebuild.”

Tilly’s lawyer argued that the family had acted willingly.