Sheeran ticket touts are second to fall foul of law

Sheeran ticket touts are second to fall foul of law

Touts who sold tickets for Ed Sheeran concerts at inflated prices are the second to be caught out in four years by a specialist trading standards team.

Four people involved in a ticketing firm based near Diss, in Norfolk, were sentenced on Friday to either immediate or suspended jail terms.

In 2020, two other touts were given jail terms – in a case trading standards officials called a “landmark”.

In both cases, fans had paid over the odds to see big name artists, including Sheeran, who is from Framlingham, Suffolk.

‘Ticket Queen’

Mark Woods, Lynda Chenery, Maria Chenery-Woods and Paul Douglas were all convicted of fraudulent trading offences and sentenced at Leeds Crown Court.

They had used TQ Tickets to buy tickets on “primary” websites, for performances by groups including Little Mix and other stars including Lady Gaga, then resell at “hugely-inflated” prices.

Chenery-Woods masterminded a multi-million-pound operation and referred to herself as Ticket Queen, her trial heard.

Trading standards officials mounted a prosecution after an investigation by a specialist “e-crime team” based in Yorkshire.


The seeds of TQ’s downfall had been sown more than four years ago, when the two other touts were prosecuted.

In February 2020, Peter Hunter and David Smith, who traded as Ticket Wiz and BZZ, were given jail terms after a trial , also at Leeds Crown Court.

Hunter was given a four-year term and Smith a two-and-a-half-year term.

Sheeran concert tickets had also featured in that trial.

The singer’s manager, Stuart Camp, had given evidence after £75 seats for a charity gig were spotted on sale for £7,000.

Sheeran ticket touts are second to fall foul of lawSheeran ticket touts are second to fall foul of law

Court of Appeal judges sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice ruled on a ‘landmark’ tout case [Brian Farmer/BBC]

Trading standards officials described the Hunter and Smith case as “landmark” and “the first successful prosecution against a company fraudulently reselling tickets on a large scale”.

Hunter, who was in his 50s and from Dublin, and Smith, who was in his 60s and from London, appealed against their convictions in 2021, but their claims were dismissed at the Court of Appeal.

Legal experts said that appeal ruling could have a major impact on the “secondary ticketing” industry by providing a “clear path for prosecution”.

Lawyers Ashley Fairbrother and Yasmin Hassan subsequently published an online analysis of legal issues relating to ticket touting headed: “Ticket Touts Beware: the Prosecutors are coming.”

What is the problem with reselling tickets?

Lady Justice Macur and Lord Justice Green explained, in their appeal ruling, why what Hunter and Smith did was wrong.

  • The judges said event organisers routinely imposed “contractual restrictions”, limiting the number of tickets one individual could buy, and prohibiting resale

  • Promoters aimed to prevent the “harvesting” of tickets with a view to resale at much higher prices

  • Judges said promoters often made it “plain” that, if restrictions were breached, tickets could be cancelled and the ticket holder refused entry

  • Promoters often used agents who ran “primary ticketing websites” to sell tickets for them

  • Judges said those primary sites were required to respect restrictions imposed by the promoters

  • Restrictions aimed to prevent ticket “harvesting” with a view to stopping resale at a substantial profit on secondary sites “to the detriment of consumers both as to price and risk”

  • Hunter and Smith “never made clear to consumers” the risk attached to the purchase of a ticket by warning them that tickets might be “null and void”

  • The two judges explained: “Had this been clear and transparent, purchasers might have been reluctant to spend large sums on tickets that could turn out not to permit entry to the event in question.”


Currently, the resale of football tickets is outlawed unless it is approved by the match organisers.

But otherwise there is no law against reselling tickets in the UK, although individual organisations may prohibit it.

Hunter and Smith were accused of fraudulent trading contrary to the 2006 Companies Act and of possessing or controlling an article for use in fraud contrary to the 2006 Fraud Act.

Trading standards officials took a similar approach when prosecuting the Norfolk four.

Chenery, 52, and Woods, 60, both of Dickleburgh, near Diss, were found guilty of three counts of fraudulent trading after a trial.

The prime mover Chenery-Woods, 54, also of Dickleburgh, and Douglas, 57, of Pulham Market in Norfolk, admitted the same offences.

Labour said in March that it would cap resale prices of tickets and regulate resale platforms.

Leader Sir Keir Starmer, a barrister and former director of public prosecutions, said access to culture could not be “at the mercy of ruthless ticket touts who drive up the prices”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had been asked about the issue in March 2023.

The BBC had investigated ticket sales for Eurovision 2023 and reported that the grand final in Liverpool sold out within 36 minutes.

A BBC report told how “hundreds of bots” – sophisticated software that pretends to be a real person – were taking up spaces in the queue ahead of genuine fans.

Mr Sunak said access to Eurovision should be “as broad as possible”, and said the government would “do all that we can to make certain that that happens”.

How do touts operate ?

Lady Justice Macur and Lord Justice Green also explained how touts worked in the online world.

  • Judges said touts circumvented restrictions imposed by event organisers by using software designed to make multiple applications when tickets went on sale

  • One piece of software was a “bot” – derived from the word robot – a programme that automates and speeds up the process a human goes through when buying a ticket

  • “The bots perform multiple simultaneous applications using false names and addresses and in so doing dupe the vendor into thinking that the sale is a genuine one by a consumer who will respect the restrictions,” said the judges

  • “Tickets acquired in this manner are then sold on secondary ticketing websites invariably at a substantial mark-up on the ticket face value,” they added

  • Secondary sites normally took a “cut” before “remitting” the balance to the tout

Trading standards officials have issued guidance aimed at ensuring fans pay fair prices.

They advise fans to buy from an “official agent” and to check the event website for information about the official vendor.

Fans should avoid buying from “secondary ticket sellers” or buying tickets on social media.

Officials say fans should check whether companies selling tickers are registered at Companies House – and check online reviews.

They say fans buying from secondary ticketing sites should check whether seat numbers and ticket locations are available – and check whether the seller is connected to event organisers.

Officials also advise fans to use a credit card when buying tickets online and an “encrypted payment method”.

They also warned people not to post pictures of genuine tickets online in case they were copied.

Jurors at the trial of Woods and Chenery had heard how Sheeran’s management tried to combat touts by voiding tickets resold for profit.

Camp told how the singer’s team had tried to limit resales.

He said Sheeran wanted to keep tickets “accessible for as many people as possible”.

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