The stunning downfall of tycoon Lawrence Jones as he’s found guilty of rape: How UKFast founder and ‘nicest boss in Britain’ went from hotel pianist to multi millionaire who played chess with Sir Richard Branson, before £700m empire came crashing down

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By Ketrin Agustine

Barely four years ago he was on track to becoming a self-made billionaire.

Having started his working life as a hotel pianist, an eye for an opportunity saw the web-hosting business which Lawrence Jones and his wife Gail founded in their spare bedroom grow into a tech powerhouse employing 500 people.

Along with a £700million fortune came an invitation to play chess against fellow entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson on Necker Island, being appointed MBE for services to the digital economy, and becoming a major donor to the Conservative Party.

The couple also own exclusive Swiss nightclub Le Farinet where Prince William was in 2017 pictured dancing with his hands on the waist of a mystery blonde during a lads’ skiing trip.

The stunning downfall of tycoon Lawrence Jones as he’s found guilty of rape: How UKFast founder and ‘nicest boss in Britain’ went from hotel pianist to multi millionaire who played chess with Sir Richard Branson, before £700m empire came crashing down

In 2018 he even boasted that he had been invited to Harry and Meghan’s wedding, although a spokesman the Sussexes later denied Jones was a guest.

It was a stunning rags-to-riches story for the Wales-born tycoon and philanthropist who would recount the childhood trauma of seeing a shop assistant at discount store Kwiksave snipping his mother’s rejected credit card in two.

The humiliating moment fuelled his desire to make money, Jones said later, recalling how he promised himself: ‘That’s never happening to me.’

Through all his success, Jones seemed proudest of his reputation as ‘Britain’s nicest boss’, preferring to be known as ‘Loz’ or ‘LJ’ by his predominantly young workforce, many of them in their first job after university.

Employees at Manchester-based UKFast – where he was CEO – enjoying perks including an on-site gym, fully-stocked bar and ‘gaming pit’.

It featured a slide running from the top floor to the reception area, while the company car park was transformed into a beach – complete with sun loungers – in summer, and an ice rink in winter.

The Joneses also hosted an annual summer festival for the entire company in the grounds of their home, dubbed UKFest, and invited staff to their ski chalet, in Verbier, Switzerland, or their lakehouse, near Snowdon, in Wales, for sporting holidays, raft-building and team-bonding weekends.

A workaholic, Jones – whose stable of cars including a Ferrari convertible, a Porsche, a Bentley and a Range Rover – lived by the motto: ‘If I am awake, I am working.’

But the couple’s empire would quickly come crashing down after Jones became one of the most high-profile targets of the MeToo movement within the world of business.

In October 2019 a bombshell investigation by the Financial Times exposed claims that the father-of-four had a ‘darker side’, with allegations of sexual assault, harassment, unwanted touching and ‘cultivating an atmosphere of fear’ at UKFast.

Jones playing the keyboard in the messy flat in Salford where he lived while working as a pianist

Allegations included waving a sex toy at his 20-year-old PA after taking her to a sex shop just after she started her job, and knocking a glass of water into an female employee’s lap, asking: ‘Am I making you wet?’

It was, however, not the first time that Jones had been accused of having an outdated attitude to women.

In 2017 he faced a backlash over his sponsorship of the Digital Entrepreneur Awards.

Critics branded Jones ‘a dinosaur in a suit’ after the ‘sexist’ and ‘tawdry’ event featured showgirls in feathers and hotpants.

Two winners even handed back their awards in protest, among them a team from the University of Bradford who likened the evening to ‘going back to the days of Bernard Manning’.

He also came under fire for a 2016 advert for UKFast’s ski lodge, which appeared to show a model naked apart from ski boots and jacket.

Then in 2017 a top girls’ school cancelled a speech Jones had been due to give after former pupils raised concerns.

Alumnae of £11,472-a-year Manchester High School for Girls – where suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst sent her daughters – had expressed their fury, while a feminist blogger labelled Jones a ‘known misogynist’.

For his part, Jones categorically denied the ‘hurtful and damaging’ allegations in the FT – but within days, customers were distancing themselves from his firm.

Family-owned key cutter Timpson was among businesses which asked for their logos to be removed from the UKFast website.

A week after the sex pest claims became public, UKFast announced he was taking a ‘leave of absence’ while an internal inquiry took place – with his wife taking over as chief executive.

Days later it emerged that Greater Manchester Police had been investigating two claims of sexual assault for several months before the FT’s article.

The businessman (right) at the height of his success playing chess with Richard Branson

Then in 2020, private equity firm Inflexion – already owner of a minority stake which valued UKFast at £660million – increased its share to 75 per cent, with both the Joneses exiting the business.

In January 2021, Jones was charged with one count of rape and four counts of sexual assault, issuing a statement slamming the ‘false’ allegations and saying he was ‘determined to ensure that my name is cleared’.

Ahead of his trial, as two further women made rape allegations, the UKFast name vanished, with the newly-merged cloud provider thereafter branded ANS.

Today Jones’s downfall is complete as he is unmasked as a convicted sex offender, a stunning change of fortune for a man once hailed as Britain’s answer to the tech tycoons of Silicon Valley.

Yet throughout it all, one person has resolutely stood by him – his glamorous wife, who attended every court hearing, gazing at her husband with apparent adoration and shooting him cheery grins.

That is despite claims made in court ahead of his first trial – but never placed before a jury – that he spoke to Gail in a ‘horrendous way in front of other people’ at work, calling her ‘stupid’.

Prosecutor Eloise Marshall KC argued that having witnessed his ‘volatile losing of his temper’ with his wife helped explain why female employees at UKFast felt unable to complain about his sexualised behaviour towards them.

However the trial judge ruled that only allegations about his conduct towards her made by his two alleged victims in their police interviews could be outlined to the jury.

Jones’s exposure as a sex offender marks a far cry from the 55-year-old’s upbringing, which on close inspection is not quite as humble as he once liked to make out.

Raised on a council estate in Denbigh, north Wales, his mother Margaret was a teacher while his father Ken, an accountant, bought and did up property.

Jones, of Hale Barns, Greater Manchester, after being appointed MBE for services to the digital economy

It was around that time that – according to Jones – he witnessed his mother’s humiliation in a local shop.

‘I remember my mum having her credit card cut up,’ he told Wales Online in 2015.

‘The shop assistant made such a big deal of it.

‘I remember being conscious I would never let that happen.

‘I had it explained to me in such a brutal fashion, it put me ahead of the game.’

The young Lawrence was a chorister at St Asaph Cathedral, earning a place to study and sing at Durham School aged seven on a free scholarship.

There, in an early sign of his entrepreneurial flair, he exploited the lack of a sweet shop to boost his £5-a-term pocket money to £40 by buying confectionary and selling to other pupils.

Jones later recalled: ‘To leave home at just seven years old, and to have the responsibility of singing solos in one of the country’s – if not the world’s – greatest choirs and cathedrals was a huge honour and undoubtedly shaped the way I am today.’

But after his voice broke, it was back to Wales where he scraped five O-levels at Ruthin School before leaving as his parents were unable to afford the fees.

According to his LinkedIn profile, his achievements at the 740-year-old establishment – which today charges boarders annual fees of £29,000 – were ‘rugby, rugby, rugby – failed everything else’.

Disgraced: The businessman outside court during his trial for raping two women. He was found guilty on both counts

Aged 16, he caught a train to Manchester – he has variously claimed to have left with £10 or £100 in his pocket – and moved into a bedsit, determined to make his fortune.

Being taken as a serious would-be businessman was an uphill struggle for ‘a 16-year-old with bleached-blonde hair and a skateboard’, he would recount.

An attempt to secure some A-levels at a local college were a dismal failure.

But his talent for sales quickly became evident when he was taken on by a music shop to do the cleaning.

Instead, while a colleague was on a lunch break, Jones sold £16,000 of kit, he later recalled.

His musical talent earnt him slots playing piano at venues including the historic Midland Hotel, creating contacts which he developed into his own entertainment and event organising firm.

With as many as 1,000 musicians on its books, the business was bought out by a competitor, leaving Jones and his then girlfriend Gail – then studying chemistry at Newcastle University – to search for a new project.

Inspiration would come during a trip to New York.

‘It was 1999 and there was a big buzz about the internet,’ he later told Wales Online.

‘I wasn’t passionate about web hosting, but I was passionate about recurring revenue.’

Spotting a gap in the market, he and Gail set up UKFast from their spare bedroom – later quipping that the start-up was ‘so small it missed the boom and bust’ as the ‘dotcom bubble’ burst the following year.

Jones shared this photo on his blog with the caption, 'Stress free in the Maldives'

Shortly afterwards, Jones had a ‘near death experience’ when he was buried under 8ft of snow when an avalanche struck during a snowboarding holiday in Alpe-d’Huez.

‘Having been given a second chance, I know now that time is the most precious thing we have,’ he said later.

After a slow start, the firm grew rapidly over its second decade, going from having 60-80 staff in 2010 to around 500 in 2019.

Lacking knowhow in the tech sector himself, Jones focused on providing better customer service than his competitors.

Reflecting on his success, Jones said: ‘My goal in my teenage diary was to own office blocks.

‘I now own 80,000sq ft of office space in Manchester.’

But he would be ‘nothing’ without his wife Gail – now aged 46 – he added.

‘She is fellow director and shareholder and an immense force. She looks after the numbers and I create the energy.’

His growing profile saw him feature on BBC Breakfast as a ‘business guru’.

‘The BBC likes to wheel me out to show that you can fail and still get on OK,’ as Jones put it.

In 2015 he was appointed MBE for services to the digital economy, and he twice donated £100,000 to the Conservative Party.

The following year, Jones – who flunked his A-levels with four Us – was made an honorary Doctor of Business Administration by Manchester Metropolitan University, hailed in the citation as a ’21st century renaissance man’.

The first of his four daughters was born in 2004 – the youngest is now seven years old.

A family stay on Necker Island – as paying holidaymakers – in 2009 would put the ultimate seal on his entrepreneur status in the form of a friendship with Sir Richard Branson, who owns the Caribbean outcrop.

Hailing ‘the businessman’s pop star’ as ‘a massive inspiration’, Jones later recalled: ‘I was training for the London marathon at the time and we ended up running around the island together every day.’

In 2014 the couple spent a reported £15million on buying and revamping the historic Le Farinet hotel and nightclub in the exclusive Alpine resort of Verbier.

Three years later the future Prince of Wales was filmed ‘dad dancing’ with female revellers while ‘the worse for wear’ at the fashionable après-ski venue.

Jones receiving an honorary doctorate in business administration from Manchester Metropolitan University

According to its British parent company’s latest accounts, Gail Jones owns 100 per cent of the issued share capital.

But his growing status as a major player in the UK’s tech sector obscured an alleged reputation for bullying and sexualised behaviour.

One female employee told the FT how being in his presence felt like ‘walking on eggshells a lot of the time’.

‘You didn’t know when [Mr Jones] was going to be like your best friend and giving you shoulder rubs, or when he would explode,’ she said.

‘He would be encouraging people to sit on his knee or cuddle up next to him,’ one man told the paper in 2020, describing the working environment as ‘misogynistic’.

A female former employee told the Daily Mail how Jones would strut around the office in ‘skimpy gym gear’ flirting with the prettiest girls.

‘Nearly all the women who worked at the company were young and beautiful,’ she recalled.

‘The women were mainly in the sales and marketing department while most of the men were upstairs in IT.

‘Yet Jones’s office was on the floor with all the women. That always seemed odd to me. It was an IT company after all. Why was his office where all the women were?

‘But it meant he always had to walk past them when he was at work.

‘He was also very flirty, but he only spoke to the prettiest ones.

‘He made me feel uncomfortable and I know others felt the same.

‘His behaviour seemed inappropriate for a boss – it felt to me like he misused his power in the way he interacted with female staff.’

As his wealth and reputation both soared, Jones began dabbling in philanthropy, becoming a trustee – along with his wife – of the Jones Community and Education Trust.

Established with a £5million donation from UKFast, its stated position was to ‘level the playing field for young people’ in Manchester.

However he ceased to be a trustee after his sex assault conviction, with the charity spending barely £13,000 in its latest accounts.

UKFast also won approval in 2017 to open a high school in Manchester focusing on digital skills in conjunction with a respected educational trust.

After his first court appearance, Jones continued trying to put a brave face on his precipitous downfall.

He was once a chocrister at Durham Cathedral, which he is seen posing in front of

Giving his occupation on his LinkedIn profile as ‘songwriter’, Jones claimed it had been his dream all along to become a professional musician.

‘Got a little distracted for about 20 years,’ he added. ‘Now writing songs again.’

No details have been made public about the financial settlement agreed when Jones was effectively forced out of the firm he founded.

But according to employment lawyers, a clause in the deal is likely to have required a compulsory transfer of shares, potentially at a discounted price.

Today his business empire in the UK is vastly reduced, with just two remaining directorships – a £4million real estate firm and a small mail order operation.

Spending the past nine months in custody has had a further ‘devastating’ effect on the family finances, a bail application was told, with 19 people losing their jobs as a result.

Speaking in 2015 about his first appearance on the Sunday Times Rich List, Jones said the ranking was ‘just infuriating because there can only be one place on it and that’s the number one’.

But he also told Altrincham Today that his paper fortune ‘isn’t real money, it’s all a game and none of it really matters’.

In comments which now seem prophetic, Jones added that he was mindful that he might be ‘here today, gone tomorrow’.

‘Success is being able to spend time with your kids, and being able to do what you want to do, when you want to do it, with who you want to do it,’ he said.

‘That’s what success is.’

It is a homely sentiment which only serves to underline just how far he has fallen as he faces another lengthy spell behind bars and away from his family.

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