My fireman fiancé was living a double life

Fireman fiancé's double life

by take-a-break |
Updated on

James was a hero. He’d saved a little boy’s life and was the perfect boyfriend to Coleen — wasn’t he?

Fireman scam
D308P5 Fireman assess a burning shop building blazing in England, UK

I spotted a familiar face over the road, and my heart sank as I clocked his outfit. He was wearing short, checked golf trousers and a pink jumper.

He waved and bounded over to meet me, and it was definitely James, the guy I’d been messaging for two weeks. We sat down for coffee and as he chatted, I had a change of heart.

‘My job is my life,’ he told me proudly. ‘Well, that and my two daughters.’
James was a firefighter. His dad and grandad had been firemen too, it was in his blood.
I shook off my reservations about his outfit — he was a good, decent bloke.
I’d not been looking for a relationship when I joined a dating site. I was still fairly fresh from the breakup of my 17-year marriage.
But James won me over.

I worked in an office with my sister, Karen, and my new admirer didn’t go unnoticed.
‘Has this bloke got shares 
in a florist?’ Karen joked, when the third bouquet that week turned up.
I turned a little red.
But it was sweet he made so much effort.

We kept meeting up and he talked about his daughters, Maddison and Mackenzie.
As a mum to my teenage girls, Laura and Katie, I loved how involved he was with his girls.
And as we got to know each other more over the weeks, James confided in me.
With tears in his eyes, he told me why he had on-going back problems.
‘I jumped out of a burning building, with a little boy in my arms,’ he said.
He showed me the thank-you card the boy had sent him. He’d saved his life.
‘Thank you for telling me that,’ I said, putting a hand over his.
I felt so proud of him.

Fireman scam con artist

A few months later, we were at the cinema. As we walked in, James carried two large popcorns. Suddenly, he toppled over and was flat out on the floor.
He grinned sheepishly.
‘You’d make a rubbish juggler,’ I laughed, ‘but it’s a good job I love you.’
The words just tumbled out.
But I realised I was smitten.
We became more serious and I introduced him to my girls.
It was going smoothly.

Then one night he was meant to come over and didn’t.
Don’t you mess me about, I thought, furious.
But the next day, he messaged, full of apologies.
I’m so sorry, the girls’ grandad died. 
I had to look after them.
I softened. Of course he did, he needed to be with them.
Sometimes he would vanish, but he always had his reasons and I understood his daughters took priority.

James and I would meet up with Karen and her partner Ryan too.
Ryan would go to the gym often and liked to play squash.
‘I bet I could beat you,’ James said.
‘You’re on,’ Ryan replied.
But after their match, Ryan had run rings around James.
James was always out jogging, and of course he had a very physical job.
We teased him about it and he went off in a huff.
He must have been having a bad day, I thought.

After four months together, James had met most of my family including my mum.
‘Why haven’t I met your girls?’ I asked James.
‘Their mum is being funny about it,’ he fired back right away.
It turned out their mum was also trying to move them to America.
I felt heartbroken for him.
His mum lived in the south of France and his sister Joanna lived abroad too, but we started talking regularly on Facebook.
It felt good to be part of the family.

James’s job was so high-pressured that he’d send me a fire emoji whenever he was called out to a fire.
I’d be on edge until I heard from him again that he was OK.
But when he wasn’t working, he’d pop by our office all the time.
Everyone knew him, so much so that when a fire engine went past, my workmate said: ‘That was James driving, I’m sure of it.’
‘He is on shift,’ I replied. ‘Maybe it was.’
Then months later, I realised something. My period was late.
I took a test and when it was confirmed, I was in absolute shock.
I called James to come round.
‘I’m pregnant,’ I said.
He looked how I felt. I was 40, we’d been so careful.
‘It’s your decision,’ he said. ‘I’ll support you.’
It was a hard decision, but I chose to terminate the pregnancy.
James came with me to the appointment.

Romance con artist

Afterwards, I was terrified it could happen again.
So James selflessly offered to get a vasectomy.
‘It’s simpler for me,’ he reasoned. I couldn’t believe it, but he insisted.
I heard him making the calls and a few days later, he went to a private clinic.
Within days, he had the procedure.
Poor James did have a bit of bruising on his pubic area, which he showed me.
He also had a gauze dressing pad and had been shaved.
‘Don’t you move a muscle,’ I said, fussing over him and bringing him another cup of coffee.
‘Thank you, princess,’ James said. ‘I must admit it’s sore. Feels like I’ve had a ferret dangling off my family jewels by its teeth!’
He had confirmation the procedure had been successful.
Three months later, we were out having drinks with Karen and Ryan.
Something just felt different as I took a sip of white wine. I was sure of it.
And after James got me a test, it was confirmed. I was pregnant again.
I was in shock.
‘Everyone’s going to think I’ve cheated on you!’ I said.
‘I know you haven’t cheated,’ he soothed. ‘Don’t worry. It’s a miracle.’
James told his mum and she was thrilled for us. And we went out for Sunday lunch as a family with Laura and Katie.
‘I can’t wait for the little one to come,’ James said, through a mouthful. ‘I thought I would only have my three kids, but to have another one coming is the best feeling.’
We all looked at him, confused.
‘What do you mean, three children?’ I said. ‘You only have two.’
‘We had a stillbirth,’ he replied.
He told us what had happened and it was so moving.
Plus, his girls had moved to America with their mum, so it was no wonder his head was spinning.
At the 20-week scan, I just hoped to hear news that our baby was healthy.

A part of me thought it would be nice to have a boy, as we both had girls.
Laura and Katie had always said they would love to have a baby brother, too.
The sonographer turned the screen around so we could see.
‘Best start painting the nursery blue then,’ she said.
I was absolutely over the moon.
‘Amazing,’ James said.
But not long after, I was on the toilet when I saw blood.
I went to hospital and it was touch and go, because it was such early days.
Hours later, James arrived. Thankfully, our boy held on but the pregnancy was terrifying.
Then two months later, at Christmas, James said: ‘Look in the tree.’

My girls were clearly fit to burst, and then I saw it.
A wedding binder.
I flicked through it and it was like being hit with a brick.
He had organised everything.
He’d booked cake tasting, the florist, meeting the wedding planner and the date of our wedding, at Wynyard Hall.
Next to the date and venue were the words: Marry me?
It was in 12 months’ time.
So it looked like we were getting married.
I was having twice-weekly blood tests, plus swabs and scans at the hospital and, thankfully, our baby seemed to be doing well.
At 36 weeks, I had an emergency Caesarean and we called our baby Charlie.
He was taken to the NICU, but after a week, I was able to hold him. And finally a week later, we brought him home.

romance baby father

But then James had shocking news.
‘Mackenzie has had an accident,’ he said. ‘She’s been kicked by a horse.’
He showed me pictures and her face was so bruised. I hardly recognised her.
‘You have to go,’ I said, so he flew out for a few days.
And as months went by, I wanted to go back to work.
James was insistent I didn’t need to.
‘Mum’s given me an early inheritance,’ he said, and showed me his bank account.
It had £2 million in it.
I had no idea.
‘She’s a sports agent out there,’ he said. ‘And she wants me to start a business over here.’

James went into overdrive, and started plans to open a restaurant called Scotts.
It seemed like a good opportunity, so Karen invested £30,000 of her savings into it too.
He took me to a fancy, ginormous house with a sold sign outside.
‘It’s ours,’ he said, pulling out champagne.
It was a £1.6 million house!
It was a whirlwind.
James wanted me to look my best, so he bought me expensive clothes, but they were a lot older than I dressed.
‘You don’t need to wear make-up,’ he said, ‘you’re naturally pretty.’
It was coming up to our wedding, but James had news.

‘I’ve found a lump,’ he said.
He was getting it checked out, but he was terrified. The GP had referred him to hospital.
We decided to postpone the wedding.
Thankfully, James soon had the all clear.

dad fireman

James was determined the wedding was back on. He rebooked it for two months later.
But yet again, just days before, James had news.
‘My girls can’t come,’ he told me. ‘Their mum won’t let them.’
I started to feel stupid, having to tell our friends and family yet again that it was cancelled.
James had been setting up another business too, which Karen had put £28,000 into.
But she and Ryan came over when James was at work.
‘It’s not adding up,’ Karen said.
She’d paid for work which James had never carried out.

So later, she and Ryan went to investigate, and while I was with James and Charlie, she called.
‘Don’t let James know what I’m calling about,’ she said. ‘But there were never any weddings booked under your names.’
It felt like the ceiling was caving in.
How could this be?
We’d all seen the confirmation emails, I’d even met a wedding planner.
I had a thousand-pound dress hanging in the wardrobe.
They came over to confront him, and James realised he was rumbled.
He handed me Charlie through the car window and drove off.
What was going on?
We went to the police, and that led to the full pack of lies tumbling down.
Firstly, his name wasn’t even James Scott.

My son had a fake name on his birth certificate!
And he didn’t have two daughters. He had a wife and three sons, who lived 30 minutes away.
Police arrested the man I’d known as James Scott, whose real name was Greg Wilson.
He appeared at Newcastle Crown Court charged with eight counts of fraud, two counts of forgery, one of making a false instrument and one of converting criminal property.
He pleaded guilty.
The sports agent mother he falsely claimed had left him £2million on her death in a French villa was alive and well, working in a nursing home and living in Sunderland.
His sister didn’t exist.
He’d never been a firefighter. He used that and his imaginary daughters as an excuse to be with his second family. He didn’t even have a job.
The card he showed me, from the little boy he saved, was from his own son.
The judge told him: ‘You lied about your name, occupation, family details, marital status and, quite bizarrely, faked a vasectomy.’
He had lied about the cancer scare too.
He was jailed for six years.
I was emotionally a mess, and I’d lost a stone from the stress.
I even missed him, it was so difficult to reconcile that James Scott was never real.
I found it so hard to trust anyone.
But years later, I met Scott through a friend. I made him show me his passport first, but we started talking and eventually, we became a couple.
We got married and he’s adopted Charlie too.
I have come to terms with 
what happened, and Karen and 
I have written two books: Playing With Fire and the follow up Healing from the Burns.
I didn’t want to let that fraudster win. I’m happy and settled, and that’s the real revenge.

Coleen Greenwood, 50, Yorkshire

● Coleen’s payment for this interview has been donated to Women’s Aid.

book cover healing from burns
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