A conman who played a key role in defrauding vulnerable people out of £8 million ($NZ15.3m) so he could go on cruises, gamble in casinos and live in a luxury apartment in New Zealand has been jailed for more than seven years.

Photographs of Anthony Kemp, 62, laughing while he sailed on the QE2 cruise ship - knowing the misery he was inflicting on hundreds of victims - were nauseating, British Judge Sean Morris said.

Despite hearing "heart-rending" stories from people he conned and their families, the judge said Kemp had shown not a flicker of remorse in the dock.

Kemp, formerly of Birtley, Gateshead, was jailed at Teesside Crown Court for seven years and one month after admitting conspiracy to defraud.

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Prosecutor Dan Cordey said the sophisticated and lengthy fraud was operated with Laurence Wheeler, 74, and his son James Wheeler, 48, who were jailed in 2016.

Kemp paid millions into his own accounts, spending some on his family in the UK and some on his girlfriend in New Zealand.

Kemp's sentence was delayed as he was serving a prison sentence in New Zealand for a similar fraud. After that sentence he was deported to the UK.

The conmen duped victims into joining a secret investment club which promised huge returns, but was essentially a pyramid scheme with no assets.

It ran between 2001-2014, with around 350 people, many of them retired, handing over money for what they thought were high-yield foreign investments.

When the date for payments passed, the conmen would make excuses and ask for more cash.

Anthony Kemp is now behind bars after being extradited to the UK from New Zealand where he also served a jail term. Photo / Police
Anthony Kemp is now behind bars after being extradited to the UK from New Zealand where he also served a jail term. Photo / Police

One victim, or 'member', said it was like being brainwashed as they were so sure a large payout was coming.

Crucially, they convinced members not to divulge details to others, including the police, saying that would jeopardise the whole investment scheme.

Some believe to this day that they will still be paid, the court heard.

To deflect criticism, the fraudsters set up an ethics committee with innocent members acting as a buffer.

One of them, Ken Reid, was receiving mobile phone calls from worried investors on his death bed, the court heard.

His son Anthony, in a victim impact statement, said: "He was a victim of a selfish fraud by a low-life individual."

Kemp moved to New Zealand and lived in a rented apartment in one of Auckland's most exclusive addresses, described by the estate agent as being "as close to heaven as life on earth permits".

Judge Morris told Kemp: "Over this period of time you were a highly sophisticated fraudster, depriving people of money, conning them that they were going to get fabulous, unbelievable returns.

"You duped people out of their life savings and it was remorseless.

"People carried on paying because they had got in so deep, they were not prepared to accept that they had been duped.

"They were hoping and praying that the promises by fraudsters, as they now know them to be, would come true.

"For years people had the worry about whether it was going to come right, that is years and years of anguish that you and your co-accused imposed on these people while you were living the high life, keeping a girlfriend in New Zealand and a wife in this country, luxury holidays, living in high value luxury apartments.

"I have seen nauseating photographs of all the laughs you were having while this misery was inflicted.'

The judge said people had lost their life savings, have had to sell their homes, face being made bankrupt in their eighties and can no longer afford a funeral.

Defence lawyer Peter Sabiston said Kemp was some steps behind Laurence Wheeler in seniority.