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  1. ITV Report

Rugby star Gareth Cooper swindled out of £1m by wife

Former British Lions and Wales player Gareth Cooper lost £1m. Credit: Wales News Service

A top rugby star was swindled out of more than £1m and left bankrupt by his own wife.

Former British Lions and Wales player Gareth Cooper, 40, set up gym and freight businesses which was run by his wife Debra Leyshon.

A court heard she pretended they were "thriving" but actually they were struggling financially and Leyshon was taking out loans behind Mr Cooper's back.

The ex-Wales scrum-half found out his wife had even re-mortgaged the family home and four other properties.

The ex-Wales scrum-half was capped 46 times.

Roger Griffiths, prosecuting, told Cardiff crown Court: "He knew nothing about this.

"In February 2017, Mr Cooper was made bankrupt and ordered to court. A month later it was agreed he had been the victim of fraud before starting a lengthy police investigation."

In a victim impact statement, Mr Cooper said: "Debra and I are now divorced. I cannot forgive what she has done, but she is the mother of my children.

"During the last three to four years of our marriage, Debra changed. She became more distant.

“She became very secretive about how the businesses were going. When I asked her, she would fob me off.”

As legal costs piled up, Mr Cooper - capped 46 times for Wales and toured New Zealand with the Lions - was forced to move back in with his parents and had to borrow £120,000 from their pensions.

He said: "This was at a time when they should be planning for their retirement. I will always be profoundly grateful for their support.

"I was deceived and manipulated by the person I trusted the most – my wife and the mother of my children.

"I do not think I will ever be the same again."

Leyshon, 41, of Bridgend admitted 13 counts of fraud, amounting to just over £1m.

Mr Cooper's friend and business partner Simon Thomas, 47, admitted two counts of fraud adding up to £380,000.

An associate, Mark Lee, admitted one count of fraud amounting to £50,000.

Judge David Wynn Morgan said: “This case presents an extremely difficult sentencing exercise. The court is going to need time to reflect. I need time to think about this.”

All three will be sentenced on Friday at Cardiff Crown Court.