A gang of Irish confidence tricksters swindled farmers out of £1.2m by promising them they could double their money.

The four men targeted farmers in Pembrokeshire as well as Devon, Cornwall and Lancashire and persuaded then to withdraw huge amounts of cash from their farm accounts.

The told them the cash was to be used to free impounded lorry loads of machinery or cigarettes or to fund a complicated international money smuggling operation.

One farmer was told that he would get a half share of £3m cash which was to be hidden inside consignments of fruit and vegetable from Turkey.

The swindles caused immense financial hardship to the farmers, some of whom were so convinced by the get-rich-quick promises that they borrowed from the families and neighbours to invest more.

Conmen John Maughan and Dennis McGinley led the scheme but were joined by two brothers, Jimmy and Luke Connors, who had run a genuine farm machinery business and who identified the victims.

Three farmers from Wales lost £41,000, one farmer from Whimple, East Devon, lost £673,000; another from Launceston, Cornwall, lost £234,000; a third from Lancashire lost £274,000 - making a total of £1,222,000.

The deception always started by one of the Connors brothers selling small amounts of tools and offering more farm machinery at cut prices. They then claimed that a container load had been stopped by customs and they needed cash to free it.

Maughan and McGinley then took over the handling of the victims, who were told ever more elaborate lies about incredibly valuable illegal cargoes of cigarettes and secret bank accounts in Dubai and Turkey.

They made hundreds of calls explaining why they needed more cash and the two men flew frequently from their homes in Northern Ireland to pick it up amounts of up to £200,000 a time at laybys near the M5 or other main road.

They told the farmer from Whimple, who was the main loser, that they would double his money. They told other victims they would repay 50 pence in the pound.

McGinley and Maughan were arrested at Bristol Airport in January as they headed back to Ireland. Police were alerted by the Devon victim, whose sister became alarm at the massive cash withdrawals and realised he was being scammed.

Two brothers who ran a farm in Boncath, had already alerted the police after they and a neighbour fell for the 'impounded lorry' scam at around the same time.

John Maughan, aged 56, of Killyview, Enniskillen, Fermanagh; and Dennis McGinley, aged 57, of Sligo Rd, Enniskillen, both admitted two counts of conspiracy to defraud. Luke Connors, aged 39, of County Wexford, admitted four.

His brother Jimmy, aged 44, of Llandyssul, admitted two counts of conspiracy and was jailed for 20 months at an earlier hearing at Exeter Crown Court.

Maughan was jailed for five years three months, McGinley for five years seven months, and Luke Connors for three years by Judge Peter Johnson, who also set a timetable for the seizure of their assets under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

He told them:"These were a shabby and mean set of offences involving trusting, kind people which netted large sums of money.

"This has had a devastating effect on the victims. Their life savings have gone and the fruits of a lifetime of work in the money you have taken from them.

"There is a sense of embarrassment at having been duped. The harm done to the victims is enormous."

Miss Rachel Drake, prosecuting, said the scam started in 2013 when a the Whimple farmer bought farm machinery and was offered more, he was then told the story about a valuable load being held up at customs and started parting with large amounts of money.

Maughan and McGinley used the false names of Gerry and Francis as they sucked him further and further into the deception, which soon included frozen bank accounts in Europe, Dubai and Turkey, vast consignments of bootleg tobacco.

They even claimed a scheme to smuggle £3 million cash out of Turkey on fruit and vegetable trucks had to be abandoned because of the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istambul in October 2018.

The farmer had scores of phone calls from both men and met them in a layby near junction 26 to hand over huge amounts of cash. His family eventually realised he was being conned and called in the police.

The farmers in Cornwall and Lancashire were still in thrall to the gang up to the time of their arrest, and Maughan was recorded making a phone call from prison which is thought to have been to an associate who was still trying to get more money from them.

They only realised they had been swindled when police checked numbers which Maughan and McGinley had called regularly and traced them.

They told almost identical stories, as did the victims in west Wales, who had realised that something was wrong and gone to the police independently.