Two touts who grossed at least £ 11 million by selling concert tickets from artists such as Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift were jailed after being found guilty of fraud in a historical trial.
Peter Hunter and David Smith, who trade as Ticket Wiz and BZZ, used different identifications and robots to collect thousands of tickets for concerts and shows in the West End such as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
The couple, who ran their business through secondary ticketing websites, including Viagogo and StubHub, were found guilty of fraud earlier this month.
Hunter was imprisoned for four years in the Leeds court on Monday, while her husband Smith was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
Hunter was first exposed by a Guardian investigation of touts and their relationship to so-called “secondary ticketing” websites, which allow people to resell tickets and take a commission on the price, which is often hugely inflated.
The National Trading Standards, which led to the indictment, began investigating the pair several months later. The verdict could have important implications for the practice of propaganda and secondary ticketing websites.
Hunter and Smith have been found guilty of three counts of fraud, since the use of techniques that the previous Guardian has shown is common among professional cards.
These include the use of multiple identities and credit cards to circumvent restrictions on the number of tickets a person can purchase, reducing the number of tickets on sale to the public.
They sold tickets to events where resale was prohibited, putting buyers at risk of being refused to enter the turnstile.
The pair also listed tickets they didn’t own yet, a practice known as “speculative selling”.
A jury concluded that these methods were fraudulent, while it also made them guilty of owning items for fraud, namely the software used to collect tickets.
Lord Toby Harris, president of the National Trading Standards, said: “Today’s sentences send a strong message to similar online tickets: these are crimes that can lead to prison terms.
“I hope this will bring about a decisive change in the secondary ticketing market, making it easier and safer for consumers who buy tickets in the future.”
The music industry campaign group FanFair Alliance praised a “fantastic” result by national commercial standards and asked for further investigation into the issue of secondary tickets.
“By facilitating online tout activities, there must be concerns that the platforms themselves will profit from the sale of tickets purchased illegally from their major suppliers.
“This should be investigated urgently and lead to action against these platforms if they benefited from the proceeds of crime.”