FOUR Hampshire residents are among a group of defendants jailed for defrauding consumers out of more than £37 million in one of the UK's biggest website frauds.

The culprits operated a number of bogus government websites that "sold" passports, driving licences and other key documents for vastly inflated prices.

The scam was so lucrative that one of the fraudsters was about to buy a £1.4 million house for cash when she was arrested.

One of the largest investigations ever undertaken by the National Trading Standards (NTS) eCrime Team resulted in two trials - one in July last year and one that has just finished.

The convictions and sentences were handed down following the first trial can only now be reported following the lifting of reporting restrictions.

Peter Hall, 47, of Homestead Road, Medstead, was jailed for eight years and eight months, plus a further one year and four months for breaching a suspended sentence imposed for a previous fraud.

His wife, Claire, 41, was sentenced to four years in prison.

Syed Bilal Zaidi, 35, formerly of Broad Street, Alresford, failed to attend the trial and received a six-year sentence in his absence.

Collette Ferrow, 50 of Longmead, Liss, was jailed for four years.

Liam Hincks, 28 of Wrexham, Clwyd, pleaded guilty before the trial began and was sentenced to three years in prison.

Following the latest trial Peter Hall received a further five-year sentence for offences committed while on bail and was also banned from being a company director for ten years.

Kerry Mills, 49, of Camberley, Surrey, was jailed for five years.

Jurors at the first trial heard how the defendants set up copycat websites through the company Tadservices between January 2011 and November 2014.

These mimicked official websites run by eleven government agencies and departments and manipulated search engine results to appear more genuine.

A NTS spokesman said: "The defendants misled hundreds of thousands of consumers into paying more than they needed for a number of government services.

"The illegal profits funded a glamorous lifestyle for the defendants, with extravagant spending on expensive cars and luxury holidays.

"At one stage Claire Hall was preparing to buy a house for a cash payment of £1.4 million when the authorities intervened."

The second trial heard how Peter Hall and two other defendants established a series of copycat websites through two companies, Online Forms and AE Online Services.

Mike Andrews of the NTS eCrime Team added: "The defendants showed no regard for the unnecessary costs they imposed on their victims. They treated them with contempt."