There was something familiar about the dark-haired woman who appeared via video link at Chester Crown Court last week, having declared that she was wasn’t well enough to come in person to be sentenced.
Sobbing tears of apparent relief as she was spared jail, 42-year-old fraudster Tanya Rowe insisted that this time she really would ‘go straight’ after Judge Simon Berkson announced his decision to give her another chance.
But this is not the first time Rowe has been given the benefit of the doubt. Nor the first she has promised to give up her life of crime using fake names, forging legal documents, posing as an Italian heiress or a barrister and seducing or tricking her male and female victims into handing her vast sums of cash.
And given her criminal track record, stretching back more than 15 years, the decision to let one of Britain’s most prolific con artists walk free last week is one which has left her swathes of victims utterly aghast.
Fraudster Tanya Rowe (pictured), 42, appeared via video link at Chester Crown Court last week, having declared that she was wasn’t well enough to come in person to be sentenced
‘This woman has effectively got away with it again,’ says Matthew Matheou, a restaurant owner from Tetbury in Gloucestershire who is among Rowe’s countless victims.
Back in 2014 he handed the ‘consummate actress’ £4,000 over several months after she convinced him she was having short-term cash flow problems and that she had colon cancer.
‘I have no doubt she will go back to what she knows and will do this all over again and again,’ he said. ‘She is a serial conwoman who clearly has no intention of learning her lesson and bringing a halt to her antics.’
Pub landlady Denise Jeffrey-Jones, from Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire, is also horrified Rowe has been allowed to walk free. She was taken in by Rowe after she moved to the area in 2014 and gave her £1,500. She says Rowe owed small amounts to dozens of people, including taxi drivers and the local newsagent, after tricking them all into thinking that she had terminal cancer.
‘She deserves to be put away again,’ says 53-year-old Denise. ‘She is a clever, manipulative woman. I’ve never met anybody like her before and I hope I never meet anyone like her again. I can’t believe she is up to her old tricks.’
Indeed, it is only five years since ‘exceptionally devious’ Rowe was jailed for defrauding 12 victims out of £61,000 in a series of scams which took place across Berkshire and Gloucestershire. None of her victims have ever been paid back or compensated for their losses.
Rowe insisted that this time she really would ‘go straight’ after Judge Simon Berkson announced his decision to give her another chance
Posing as an Italian heiress due to inherit a £30 million fortune, half of the money she stole that time around was conned out of a property developer she contacted via the ‘Sugar Daddies’ website; the rest from people she befriended or impressed using a false persona.
She even targeted the parents of one of her son’s school friends. When her victims became suspicious, she told them she had terminal cancer, even managing to get herself admitted to hospital to make them believe her lies.
The judge who tried her at Gloucester Crown Court in 2016 described her as ‘wicked and callous’; ‘a practised and accomplished liar’ and a ‘skilled forger’. Significantly, he noted her lack of remorse.
The judge’s dismay was justified because having been released from Eastwood Park women’s prison in Gloucestershire just over halfway through her five-year sentence in 2019, an unrepentant Rowe picked up where she left off; moving to Chester and breathing new life into her fake identity as a wealthy Italian by adopting the name Mia Bella Cavalli.
Posing as an international events manager with high-end jeweller Cartier, this time she targeted an 83-year-old retired entrepreneur who gave her £70,000 in cash and gifts including a £7,850 Rolex watch and a new Ford Focus car for her son.
Friends of the pensioner alerted police but, in the end, Rowe was only found guilty of fraud in relation to forged Cartier payslips she used to rent a £250,000 apartment in Chester town centre, where she based herself after leaving prison. The pensioner, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has since moved from the area.
And yet, as the Mail can reveal, these latest crimes are just the tip of a large and duplicitous iceberg, one which raises serious questions about how on earth Rowe, who has also used the fake name Ryley Cruz, can be trusted not to strike again.
A former acquaintance told me that she believed Rowe’s fraudulent life has become part of her identity, that her self-reinvention as a well-spoken upper-crust woman of means began as a way of escaping the drudgery of her early life on a council estate in Tottenham, North London, where she was one of six siblings born to a single mother from whom she is now estranged.
Rowe was 18 when she gave birth to a son after a relationship with a forklift driver. In the past her lawyers have drawn on her ‘violent, difficult, unsupported and unloving childhood’ to mitigate her crimes.
A family source has also insisted that this is a lie and that they were ‘devastated’ by her behaviour. Whatever the truth, she went off the rails at an early age. One of her lawyers has said ‘drugs played a part in her adolescent years and into her 20s’.
In 2005, she was caught trying to smuggle Class A drugs into a prison and, a year later, jailed for three years at Ipswich Crown Court. When she was released around 18 months later, she moved to Essex.
She lived there in 2008 when she conned a magazine into running a feature describing her battle with terminal breast and ovarian cancer.
‘I fell in love … four months later I discovered I was dying,’ ran the headline above the fictitious story. Rowe, then 28, claimed to be a kickboxing instructor and told how between chemotherapy sessions she had met ‘Jason’, the love of her life who, a month after meeting, proposed.
The judge who tried her at Gloucester Crown Court in 2016 described her as ‘wicked and callous’; ‘a practised and accomplished liar’ and a ‘skilled forger’. Significantly, he noted her lack of remorse
‘Just weeks later I watched Jason’s face crease with disbelief as my doctor explained the cancer had spread … All I knew was that I didn’t have long left and I couldn’t spend this precious time being upset.
She said she and Jason ‘blew thousands’ on a trip to Vegas and she bought a £1,580 Prada handbag.
‘It was bizarre packing for what would probably be my last holiday ever,’ she gushed.
A week after the article appeared, the magazine ran a follow-up in which Tanya claimed ‘Jason’ had cheated on her with another woman. She said that having terminal cancer had given her the confidence to attend an ‘open casting’ held by Wonderbra in London in 2008; part of a marketing campaign aimed at ‘ordinary’ women with bigger busts.
Images of 8,000 women, some of them uploaded to the Wonderbra website, were used to make up a mosaic-style picture of a model which was plastered on a billboard on London’s Tottenham Court Road. Wonderbra is unable to confirm if Rowe was among those featured.
But months later, she appeared as a celebrity guest with the Mayor of Dartford at a cancer charity event held at Birchwood Park Golf Centre in Kent, where she was billed as ‘Wonderbra model Tanya Rowe, who herself has cancer’. At around this time she took part in professional photoshoots, hoping to find fame and fortune. But having told people she had weeks to live, Rowe had to leave the area.
This time she moved to Windsor in Berkshire, enrolling her son at a comprehensive and reinventing herself as Ryley Cruz; to some victims she was a wealthy Italian heiress; to others a high-flying barrister; or, in some cases, a designer brought in to spruce up celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant, The Fat Duck, in the nearby village of Bray.
She forged documents and cheques to make it appear that she had an account with the Queen’s bank, Coutts, using the fake paperwork to borrow money and to lease properties for which she never paid rent.
Rowe disarmed her victims by pretending to be wealthy and bamboozling them with her apparent generosity, making them feel indebted.
For Tracey Kellett, a company manager from Berkshire whose son attended the same school as Rowe’s, the overtures came as regular large bouquets of flowers. Rowe said they were a thank-you gift from her bank but that she was allergic to them.
Speaking to the Mail after Rowe was jailed in 2016, Tracey recalled how Rowe offered to take her son on a two-week all-expenses-paid holiday with her own son, sending her a travel agent’s itinerary of the trip.
‘We said we couldn’t afford it and she said she would pay and that she just needed spending money,’ recalled Mrs Kellett, who knew Rowe by her fake name, Ryley Cruz. When she phoned the travel agent, she was told that no trip had been booked.
‘When I asked Ryley about it, she got funny and said she was going to book it last minute,’ recalled Tracey.
The New York trip went ahead, but there was no sight-seeing and the visit was cut short, with Rowe saying her cancer had spread.
It was then that Rowe stung the Kelletts for £8,000, using a well-rehearsed ploy. Claiming that the owners of her rented home in Windsor wanted her to leave with just a week’s notice, Rowe said she couldn’t release funds from her notice account in time to move into the £3 million house she’d found to rent in Bray.
The Kelletts paid her deposit and first month’s rent and when they asked for the money back, Rowe used her ‘cancer’ to fob them off.
‘Eventually we realised we’d been conned,’ said Tracey. ‘You go through such anger but she was a good liar.’
Rowe moved on again. In Gloucestershire she befriended pub landlady Denise Jeffreys-Jones, posing as a barrister and renting a room above the pub where she kept a professional wig and gown on display while flashing details for a £750,000 property she said she was buying.
‘It was huge with lots of bedrooms and a pool. She seemed excited although the sale did seem to be taking a while so she rented a house near the pub,’ says Denise.
Posing as an Italian heiress due to inherit a £30 million fortune, half of the money she stole that time around was conned out of a property developer she contacted via the ‘Sugar Daddies’ website; the rest from people she befriended or impressed using a false persona
In fact, Rowe paid only the deposit and the first month’s rent, exploiting a legal loophole which meant she couldn’t be evicted until the end of the sixth-month lease.
In the end, Denise and Rowe’s other victims became suspicious and contacted the Bar Council, who said they hadn’t heard of her.
In 2015, Rowe moved to Cheltenham where further victims included property developer Steven Wood, who lost around £30,000, and a waitress who handed over her £5,000 life savings.
She used falsified references and payslips to rent an apartment, again only paying the deposit and first month’s rent.
Estate agent George Tatham-Losh, who rented her the flat, recalls: ‘If she saw me in the street, she would give me a sinister smile.’
In February 2016, he went to the police, triggering the investigation that saw Rowe jailed in 2016.
After her early release in 2019, Rowe used her faked Cartier payslips under her new name, Mia Cavalli, to move to Chester, where she met the wealthy pensioner she targeted at the city’s Caramel Cafe Ristorante in September 2019.
She offered to help the elderly man search for a new property. Soon, however, she had told him she had breast cancer and, after claiming she hadn’t been paid by Cartier, was facing eviction from her flat.
The man fell for her story and began to give her money — firstly, £2,200 to pay the rent, followed by smaller payments for between £200 and £400 a day to cover expenses.
In January 2020, he handed her a further £28,000. In court, the retired businessman said that Rowe had claimed to be in the process of selling a £3.8 million house in Windsor, once again name-dropping celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, whom she claimed was interested in buying it.
She insisted the cash and gifts were given voluntarily as part of a ‘sugar daddy sexual relationship’, while the pensioner denied their relationship was physical.
The jury was unable to reach a verdict on whether or not she had defrauded him.
Rowe has been given a 15-month jail sentence, suspended for 18 months, and ordered to complete 20 days of ‘rehabilitation activity requirements’. Those unfortunate enough to have crossed paths with her are sceptical she will change, largely as they’ve heard it before.
Back in 2016, Rowe’s lawyer told the judge at Gloucester Crown Court that ‘she has recognised the game is up and that no more ducking and diving can go on’. And yet within months of getting out of jail, she was up to her old tricks.
Five years on, Rowe’s appearance on the court video link was a far cry from the glamorous woman who has taken on so many guises and taken in so many over the past 15 years.
Wearing almost no make-up, the look on her face was one of humility and remorse. Only time will tell if it was just another act.