How this photo finally trapped Britain's most wanted 'conman' Mark Acklom

To any casual observer, the young family in the £1 million apartment overlooking Lake Zurich fitted in perfectly with their affluent surroundings.

There was the 45-year-old father, the multilingual founder of a hi-tec electronics firm. Then there was his wife, an attractive Spaniard with a passion for £100-an-hour yoga sessions and paddle-boarding.

And there were their two young daughters, who exuded the charm and good manners one would expect, given their expensive private educations.

So it came as a shock last Saturday when the evening calm of the well-heeled neighbourhood was shattered by the noise of armed Swiss police surrounding the property.

Acklom (right), caught on camera by one of his alleged victims at a cafe in Geneva in 2017

What followed, said witnesses, was like ‘something out of a drama’.

‘I saw three cars — two undercover cars and one big official one with markings,’ noted one neighbour. ‘They blocked all the ways in and out. Then I saw the police jump out and run to the building.

‘They split up: some went to the upper road and some took the lower road and some went by the lake. It was getting dark. We were sitting there thinking “Should we be afraid?” — because one of the policemen took his gun out.’

Then, leaping from the first-floor balcony, the man attempted to flee, jumping down to the lawn below.

Luckily, officers who had been staking out the flat for days were ready and waiting — wrestling him to the ground and securing him with handcuffs.

He has been under lock and key ever since. And, if the authorities have their way, he will remain so for some considerable time.

Because the smooth-talking ‘business executive’ is none other than Mark Acklom, Britain’s most wanted conman.

He’s been on the run for more than four years, having allegedly fleeced divorcee Carolyn Woods out of her £850,000 life savings while posing as a wealthy banker and MI6 agent, and is suspected of cheating dozens more by claiming to be a property developer, City broker, lawyer and even a gynaecologist.

His arrest brings to an end a Europe-wide manhunt for the privately-educated swindler. Acklom, known for his love of fast cars, first-class travel and expensive hotels, is alleged to have used dozens of false identities to stay one step ahead of the authorities.

At the weekend, his luck finally ran out after an international operation involving the National Crime Agency, Avon and Somerset Police and the Swiss authorities.

Proceedings to extradite him to the UK are now underway and he is expected to face at least 20 charges of fraud and other offences.

For his alleged victims, the news, while welcome, is bittersweet. Because it is almost impossible to overestimate the devastation they say Acklom has left in his wake.

‘It has been a very long haul and my health has suffered,’ 61-year-old Miss Woods, who lives in Bath, told the Mail this week. ‘It seems every time I try to start afresh, something else happens with him and it brings the whole episode rushing back.’

Meanwhile, IT specialist Christopher Frampton, 55, of Ashbourne, Derbyshire, claims his health and marriage collapsed under the strain of being fleeced out of £50,000 when, he says, the conman persuaded him to give up his lucrative corporate job for a business venture that turned out to be a scam.

‘It devastated my life so much, I’m having therapy,’ he says. ‘I am cross that Acklom was living in a million-pound property in Switzerland — I lost all the money I’d saved and my family went from living comfortably to living hand-to-mouth.’

Mark Acklom (pictured) with his wife Maria Yolanda Ros Rodriguez at Ascot's Royal Enclosure

Mark Acklom (pictured) with his wife Maria Yolanda Ros Rodriguez at Ascot's Royal Enclosure

Even Acklom’s own family, from whom he has been estranged for years, still bear the scars from his behaviour.

His mother, Diana, told us: ‘My marriage broke up over this, and his children by his first wife don’t have anything to do with him.

‘If he wanted to really run away, he should have gone to South America, like Ronnie Biggs. But I think he liked to live on the edge — he needed to have a buzz.

‘I was speaking to his brother and he said: “How can he live not knowing who would be behind the next knock on the door?’’’

And, make no mistake, in recent months the net had been steadily tightening around him.The current manhunt was launched in October 2016 when a European arrest warrant was issued by Avon and Somerset Police, originally focusing on allegations of fraud linked to Ms Woods.

She claims that in 2012, Acklom had walked into the boutique where she worked in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, and swept her off her feet, saying he was Mark Conway, a Swiss banker.

By the end of their year-long ‘romance’, Miss Woods says she had lent him every penny of her £850,000 life savings.

The mother-of-two claims that she was financially ruined and on the brink of suicide when Acklom left her.

When the warrant was sought, British police believed Acklom was hiding in Spain: he had a Spanish wife, Maria Yolanda Ros Rodriguez, whom he married in 2009 and with whom he had two children.

But in May 2017, the hunt switched to Switzerland after he was photographed at a Geneva cafe by one of his alleged victims, who spotted him by chance.

When police examined the images, they realised he was drinking coffee with a Spanish fraudster, also then on the run.

The café was staked out — but Acklom never returned.

Then, earlier this year, he was linked to a flat in a northern suburb of Zurich, from which it was believed he had been setting up

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