Lawrence Jones, the founder and former CEO at tech firm UKFast, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for two counts of raping young women in the 1990s and a sexual assault. He will also be on the sex offender register for life.
On sentencing, Judge Sarah Johnston said:
“You thought you could behave with impunity… characterised by entitlement, dominance and a lack of regard for the rights and freedoms of these women and in my view, an element of sinister premeditation.”
She added that she had seen references about his achievements and charity work, but “it cannot mitigate your offending.”
The judge said that she had also read a letter from his wife detailing the impact on his family, including his 4 daughters:
“I am sure you feel guilty for them, but for your offending there is no remorse,” stated the judge.
On Count 1 relating to Woman A he was sentenced to 14 years
On Count 2 relating to Woman B, he was sentenced to 7 years to run concurrently.
On the sexual assault, this was 1 year, to run consecutively.
In total he will have to serve two thirds of the 15 years, before release.
“Our heartfelt appreciation goes to the remarkably courageous women who stepped forward to share the harrowing experiences they endured at the hands of Jones,’ said Detective Constable Stewart of Greater Manchester Police.
“Their bravery and strength have been instrumental in holding Lawrence Jones accountable for his heinous actions. We express our sincere thanks for their immense bravery throughout this challenging investigation and trial. With this sentencing, we aim to deliver a clear message to survivors of rape and other sexual offenses — Greater Manchester Police will listen and will support you no matter who was involved or when it happened. No one should carry the weight of silence, and we encourage all victims to step forward and report these crimes to us. Greater Manchester Police remains dedicated in our unwavering pursuit of those responsible for rape and other sexual offenses. We also remain committed to protecting and safeguarding victims and survivors, ensuring they receive the support and justice they rightfully deserve.”
During a trial at Manchester Crown Court lasting three weeks, Jones denied two counts of drugging and raping two young women in the 1990s. Last week, a jury came to a unanimous decision and he was found guilty of those crimes.
After reporting restrictions were lifted to ensure Jones had a fair trial, last week the judge also revealed Jones was convicted of sexual assault at another trial which concluded in January. Jones had already spent 10 months in prison for that conviction.
Jones has since been stripped of his honorary doctorate awarded by Manchester Metropolitan University in 2016.
A ‘cult-like’ toxic empire
At the helm of UKFast while Jones was busy flaunting his power, the truth about his behaviour was beginning to unravel thanks to brave victims and former employees.
The 55-year-old, from Hale Barns in Greater Manchester, was one of the most high-profile tech entrepreneurs in the North at the peak of his success, employing more than 400 staff at the tech firm he founded with his partner Gail in 1999.
With an estimated wealth of about £700m at the time, he was hailed as one of the UK’s 250 richest individuals while UKFast was selected as one of Britain’s top 10 ‘best places to work’ by The Sunday Times in 2019.
From attending royal events such as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding to being awarded an MBE in 2015, he appeared to revel in mingling with the rich and powerful.
But that all changed when more than 30 former employees came forward to expose Jones, detailing their accounts of sexual assault, harassment and inappropriate behaviour, following a investigation by the FT in 2019.
Rumours of a ‘cult-like’, sexist, and toxic empire he built at his hosting tech firm in Manchester had been swirling for some time across the tech community. Yet the gravity of his depraved behaviour – and crimes – were yet to be unearthed until now.
Those who met or worked with him saw through the cracks of his carefully crafted veneer. After his guilty verdict was first announced, dozens of people have taken to social media to share their experiences or encounters with the disgraced tech entrepreneur.
On the numerous encounters with Jones shared over on Reddit, one user claims to have worked for him when the company was based at City Tower: “He was a overtly loud arrogant and overly confident man, he really has a knack to be able to sell ice to a Eskimo, a truly convincing aura. Think the portrayal of Wolf of Wall Street.
“What was very sad was this abusive conduct pervaded not just in how he treated women, but people.”
Over on LinkedIn, Mhairi Davidson recalled going to interview at UKFast in 2017 for a number of roles, including one to become Jones’ PA. She said she was “lucky enough” not to have met him but detailed the bizarre interview process after being offered a sales management role.
“I was told I’d have to negotiate this directly with Lawrence when he got back from his yacht, or chalet, or wherever he was,” she said. It sent “alarm bells not just ringing, but screaming.”
Her post continues: “At the time, I remember two very good friends telling me what they’d heard about the company and Lawrence, and I cannot thank them enough. Not so long afterwards, he was in the news for having a naked girl in snow boots as a full page magazine advert for his chalet in the Alps, a trip to which was an incentive for UKFast staff at the time. More than an eye rolling moment, I felt sickened.
“Well done to the women who spoke out for their courage and integrity. Thank you for driving this predator into the spotlight and removing him from the community.
“I ran for the hills and never looked back. Good riddance to bad rubbish.”
Another former employee, Dan Kelsall shared in a LinkedIn post how Jones had “finally got his just deserts in court” adding that it’s a “travesty that it took this long.”
The post continues: “The guy was a slimy little slug when I worked there, and that was donkey’s years ago.
“It’s actually a bit of a stain on Manchester’s business and politics that we let this guy operate for so long. Amazing what backhanders and donations can do, innit?”
“This will be a very emotional time for many people.”
Former UKFast employee Hester Lonergan shared her experience online too, in the hopes it would help others.
“This will be a very emotional time for many people: the victims, the women who were objectified and gaslit while working at UKFast, and the employees who watched and were too scared or confused to do anything about it,” she said in a lengthy LinkedIn post.
“The first time I had a panic attack in the office, my team knew what to do because apparently it happened there a lot,” she explained. “I was met with hushed support the first time it happened, but as my mental health continued to crumble, so did the business’ patience.”
Without any support for her mental health and continued daily panic attacks, she was let go after proposing an internal comms capability – which wasn’t in place despite UKFast having 450 staff at the time.
The post continues: “UKFast destroyed my mental health, and the senior leaders who threw me out of the business when I was at my lowest knew exactly what they were doing. It took me almost a year to find the confidence to go back into full-time work. I wish I’d stuck up for myself, but I was young, thought leaders should be trusted, and actually just couldn’t comprehend what was happening.
“The horrors I saw and experienced while working at UKFast showed me the very real human damage that can be caused by lacking internal infrastructures and bad management. Businesses have a duty of care to communicate clearly with their people, because when people feel informed, they feel safe. And when they feel safe, they can do their jobs and live healthy lives.
“I would never say I’m glad I worked at UKFast, but those experiences did light a fire in my belly that still burns bright. Those experiences are the reason I got into internal comms – to build systems that give people safety, because if I can protect even one person from going through what I did, I’ll be pretty chuffed about it. It’s why I continue to push for audience-focused, accessible communications that leave nobody behind.”
Mark Garratt, director of marketing, communications and recruitment at Anglia Ruskin University, shared his encounter with Jones back in 2017. While working at the University of Bradford, the marketing team handed back an award from the Digital Entrepreneur Awards in Manchester. The awards, which were sponsored by UKFast and organised by the tech firm’s events team, attracted widespread criticism for parading burlesque dancers.
Jones had “pleaded” with him to reconsider handing back the award but “when he didn’t get what he wanted” he was “gagged” with a cease and desist order to stop Garratt from talking about why they the university handed back its award.
“It turned out that this was his tactic with everyone he came across including ex female employees. However, it appeared there was a more sinister side to Mr Jones,” he explained in a LinkedIn post, adding that ”justice has been served for the brave and courageous women who found their voices and came forward.”
The post continues: “I would implore all potential whistleblowers or women who have been through similar trauma to come forward. This story shows how justice can be done for such disgraceful wrongdoings in the future.”
Those across the tech community have called out the behaviour from leaders who are “hidden in plain sight in every industry.” Lee Chambers, the founder of Preston-based Essentialise Workplace Wellbeing, said in a LinkedIn post that it’s a “sad reality” that the news was not a shock to most people across the Manchester tech scene.
“It’s really time that things start to change. The equity work continues because allyship is the new leadership.”