DOZENS of families may be badly out of pocket after forking out for pre-paid funerals organised by convicted fraudster Richard Sage.

It is unclear how many families paid Sage’s undertaker’s business in advance before it was wound up when he was jailed for four-and-a-half years last October.

Sage ran Mayer funeral parlours in Westcliff, Shoebury and Hadleigh, and took cash upfront from at least 15 people to cover their funeral costs.

Sage, 52, of Westcliff Parade, Westcliff, was jailed at Blackfriars Crown Court on six counts of fraud by misrepresentation, offences unconnected with his undertaker’s business.

In addition, he was barred from being a company director and the Mayer company wound up, leaving pre-payment clients in the lurch.

The problem only came to light when grieving families began turning to the man whose separate company took over Sage’s parlours. They expected their loved ones to be given the funerals for which theyhad paid – only to hear their money had disappeared.

Tojay Kemal, who took over the premises, renaming the business Penrose Funeral Home, says 15 people have so far contacted him.

He added: “It is monstrous what he has done to these people.

“We are trying to help as many as we can, but it got to the stage where there were so many people coming forward.

“We gave the first couple free funerals, but we couldn’t carry on doing that, so we are offering them at cost price. We are trying to do what we can for people.

“When Mayer was liquidated, we asked the landlord if we could take over the premises and we kept the same phone number, because there were funerals already in the pipeline and because they had people’s ashes here. My company, Penrose, is a member of the National Federation of Funeral Directors.

“We don’t take money in advance for funerals. We use a scheme where, if a funeral director goes bust, or disappears, the client doesn’t lose their money.

“Richard Sage was just keeping the money. We have been told to refer people to the police.

“I feel deeply sorry for these people. Some people don’t know until they actually come to arrange a funeral.

“It is not an easy thing to explain to people, but it’s amazing how understanding they have been. They realise we are trying to do our best for them and we’ve done all we can to help the police and the liquidators.”

Mr Kemal, who is also a director of a private ambulance company called Medi Call Southern, said he ended up trying unsuccessfully to take over Sage’s businesses because he was owed money by it.

Mr Kemel claims he lost about £15,000 when Mayer was liquidated.

He added: “We were duped, like many other people, but when you are dealing with confidence tricksters, it’s not worth beating yourself up about it, because it could happen to anybody.”

The company which wound up Mayer, Liquidator Resolve, declined to comment.

The Echo asked police to comment on the missing funeral plan money, but got no response before we went to press.

Anyone who thinks they may be owed money by Sage’s Mayer company is asked to call 0203 4110507.


Burial plan 'not worth the paper it's written on'

A BENFLEET couple in their eighties are £3,350 out of pocket as a result of Sage.

Chris Breslin, of Merrivale, discovered his parents’ pre-paid funeral plan was worthless – purely by chance Mr Breslin’s 86-year-old mother and 89-year-old father bought a plan from Mayer in 2013. Mr Breslin said: “My mother and father pre-paid for a funeral plan with this company.

“I was talking about arrangements with dad and realised the plan they had was not worth the paper it was written on. There could be a lot of people out there with the same problem. I went to the office but the current company said it didn’t have any responsibility for what Sage did. All it could do was offer a cut-price funeral as a goodwill gesture.”

Mr Breslin, 55, added: “People need to be aware of this. I only found out by chance. I saw the name and thought it rang a bell.

I don’t know how long Mum has left. It could be days, weeks or months, as she is pretty poorly, but at least we found out now.

“There could be someone out there who will lose a loved one and think they are all right for the funeral.”


The cruel trick Sage played on jobseekers

RICHARD SAGE, who also called himself Mark Kerbey, was tried and found guilty of six counts trying to dupe jobseekers into applying for non-existent internships.

He is said to have posted a series of adverts, inviting young people to work for him.

The ads asked for a £400 up-front “administration fee”, which youngsters paid Sage, but the promised a jobs never materialised.

The fraud charges dated back to 2011, before Sage was involved in the Mayer funeral parlour company.

Tojay Kemal, who took over Sage’s south Essex funeral parlours, said he had always known Sage as Mark Kerbey.

He said he had been offered shares in the company because Sage owed him £15,500. The debt arose after Sage hired Mr Kemal’s company, Medi Call, to transport remains, but then only sporadically paid him.