My "hero" husband was a fantasist
Georgina Miles can barely bring herself to look at her wedding photos. It's not because they're bad, it's because of the man standing next to her.
She's smiling in the pictures, as her handsome soldier husband, Craig Colclough, stands proudly beside her. They look like the perfect couple and, when she walked down the aisle, Georgina thought she was marrying an Iraq War hero who had retired from the services with full honours.
However, just 48 hours after returning from their honeymoon in the Maldives, Georgina discovered the man she'd married was a fake and a fantasist who'd concocted a glamorous story. Craig, 39, had never been a doctor in the Royal Army Medical Corps - the uniform and medals he wore on his wedding day were bought from the internet, all part of his web of deception.
"He'd made it all up," Georgina says quietly. "And I'd believed every word. I'd been living with a man who I thought loved me. In fact, I didn't know him at all."
Far from being an unusual case, an increasing number of women are being preyed upon by con men. Earlier this month, Paul Bint was jailed for three years after targeting vulnerable women, romancing them and then stealing money from them.
Serial fantasist Craig began his tall tales from the moment he met Georgina in September 2006 in an internet chat room for members of the armed forces.
"Craig was very forward, telling me all about himself," says Georgina, 30, a government scientist from Oxfordshire. "He told me he was from Scotland and had studied medicine at Glasgow University before joining the army as a medic.
"He said he'd just retired and was setting up a private psychiatric practice with some fellow ex-service doctors in London's Canary Wharf. I was in the Territorial Army (TA), so I felt a strong affinity with him."
Georgina and Craig started seeing each other - their first date was spent strolling around Buckingham Palace Gardens. Their relationship progressed fast, and within two months of meeting online, Craig proposed.
"He'd already been married, but told me that it was nearly 20 years before and it had been annulled, which meant in the eyes of the law it had never happened," Georgina recalls. "I appreciated his honesty. And while I thought the proposal was quick, I wanted to be his wife."
A couple of months later, the couple told Georgina's family and friends of their wedding plans and set a date for May 2007. Georgina had moved into Craig's London flat and she threw herself into organising a dream wedding day for them.
"It felt right," Georgina explains. "I'd had a long-term boyfriend before Craig, so I wasn't naive about relationships. Things had moved quickly, but I was very happy."
He was welcomed by her family and friends, and was even invited to become a regimental medic by Georgina's TA unit, offering medical advice to members.
"He'd share stories about Iraq with other soldiers," she remembers. "He told them in detail and with such emotion that I had no reason to doubt him. No one did."
Life seemed perfect, and the couple's wedding plans progressed. As Georgina compiled the guest list, Craig had news.
"He said none of his family were able to come," she says. "His brother was at sea in the navy, his mother was ill, and he didn't have a good relationship with his father. It was a shame, but I understood."
Craig said his colleagues couldn't come either, as one had marital problems and the other had to look after the practice.
"I only have a select group of friends," says Georgina, "and because Craig had been in the army and then left, I thought that was why he didn't have many people to invite."
She ordered a wedding dress, booked a luxury hotel in the Scottish Highlands for the reception and sent out the invitations. Then, six weeks before the wedding, Craig broke down and told Georgina he'd received some tragic news.
"He explained his best man, Jim, who he'd served with in the Gulf, had committed suicide," she recalls. "I offered to go to the funeral with him, but a few days later, Craig said Jim had been cremated and was upset the family hadn't told him."
Georgina broke the news to her family and friends, who all rallied round Craig to support him.
"My brother-in-law stepped in to be best man and everyone promised to make Craig feel loved on the day," says Georgina.
When the couple visited the registrar the day before the wedding, Georgina got another shock. "On the documentation, the word 'divorced' was written next to Craig's name," she says.
When she questioned him, he admitted he'd lied. "He said he hadn't wanted me to know this was actually his second marriage; he wanted it to feel new and special, which is why he'd told me the previous marriage had been annulled," says Georgina. "I was shaken, but accepted his explanation."
The couple married on 26 May, 2007, in front of 50 guests in a lavish £10,000 ceremony, and then flew to the Maldives for a luxury honeymoon. Just two weeks later Georgina received a call from her sister, Jane, 32.
"She said she'd been looking up people's names on the internet and suggested I research Craig," says Georgina. "She didn't say why, but I was curious, so I went online."
She was surprised to see mentions of a Craig Colclough, also from Scotland, on an ex-pat site in Prague that said he worked in banking and had children. She also found he was a member of a dating website. Georgina then contacted Glasgow University, where Craig said he'd studied medicine. They'd never heard of him and there was no record of him being registered on the General Medical Council website as a doctor, either.
"I was in shock," says Georgina. That night she confronted her husband. "I said: 'I'm Georgina Miles, who are you?' He shrugged and looked annoyed that he'd been found out. He then admitted everything he'd told me had been a lie."
Craig was really a City banker with two children he hadn't seen for years.
"All the time we'd been together he'd been working in a City bank earning a six-figure salary," says Georgina.
He confessed he thought Georgina wouldn't have wanted the man he really was. "He had a successful career in the City, why would he lie about it?" says Georgina.
She was devastated, and went to stay with her sister. "I lost half a stone in 10 days and had to have counselling," she recalls.
It was two weeks before Georgina told her parents.
"I was ashamed," she says. "Telling them it had all been a lie was very difficult - and they were heartbroken for me."
Craig moved to Dublin to start a new job with an insurance company, and Georgina stayed on in the London flat. She began divorce proceedings, but Craig wasn't prepared to let her walk away.
"Over the next three months, he emailed me more than 1,000 times saying we needed to talk," says Georgina. "He turned up outside the flat, but when I wouldn't see him he drove to London City Airport and took an overdose of painkillers. I had to collect him and drive him to hospital. I was being manipulated, but I didn't know what else to do."
When even the overdose failed to win back Georgina, Craig became increasingly desperate.
"I moved back to my parents' house in Somerset and he'd appear there in the middle of the night, texting to say he was sleeping in a nearby lay-by. Then he claimed he was dying of stomach cancer. It seemed there was no end to his lies."
In August 2007, Georgina decided she had to explain to her colleagues at the TA about Craig's deception.
"I'd waited until then because I was a complete wreck and couldn't bring myself to admit to them what he'd done. I was also worried people would lose their jobs because they hadn't done the proper security checks on him," she says.
The MOD police became involved and, after months of investigations, Craig appeared at Snaresbrook Crown Court in September this year. He admitted impersonating a doctor and assault, following his treatment of a TA soldier's broken hand.
Despite having no medical knowledge, Craig had diagnosed a dislocated thumb which he'd tried to put back into place himself, resulting in the soldier being left permanently disfigured.
Craig was jailed for 16 weeks. The judge also banned him from any MOD, army, TA, Royal Navy or RAF premises, or from contacting any member of the TA unit involved in the case, including Georgina.
"I can finally relax knowing he's in prison," she admits. "But I still run over in my mind whether there were clues I missed."
Now Georgina's slowly rebuilding her life. She's divorced Craig on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour and is saving up to complete her PhD at Oxford University. She's also learnt to trust again and is in a new relationship.
"Craig managed to con some clever people, including my friends who are doctors, professors and soldiers. What he did was extraordinary," she says. "If I didn't believe that, I'd never be able to trust another person, let alone another man.
"He took away three years of my life. But that just makes me even more determined to put him behind me and move on."
Psychotherapist Phillip Hodson, Fellow of the British Association For Counselling And Psychotherapy, says:
"Fantasists have different motivations, ranging from financial gain to love. It can be difficult to stop lying because they have to maintain a story, so the lies become more elaborate."
MEET THE OTHER FANTASISTS
Serial bigamist and fantasist Emily Horne, 30, received a suspended sentence in July this year for bigamy after confessing to her fifth husband about her four other spouses. She'd told her husbands numerous lies - including that she was suffering from womb cancer and that her sister had died of an overdose.
James Bond wannabe Michael Newitt, 42, was jailed in October 2008 after passing himself off to police as an MI5 special operations commander, even duping his wife into believing he was an undercover intelligence officer.He was, in fact, an IT worker and former bankrupt.