Former British Lions and Wales player Gareth Cooper, 40, set up two gyms and freight businesses to be run by his wife Debra Leyshon.
Cooper today told the court he was “dumbstruck” to discover she had taken his money from his playing career. But a judge allowed her from custody with a suspended sentence to bring up the couple’s three children. A court heard she pretended they were “thriving” — but 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.
Roger Griffiths, prosecuting, said: “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.”
In a further statement read to court today Mr Cooper said: “To find out that it was my wife and mother of my children that did this to me left me dumbstruck. The most difficult thing has been to come to terms with Debra’s deceit. She was responsible and the court will have to deal with her as is appropriate.”