TRAVELLERS William and Lorraine Brazil who claim they were swindled out of their £355,000 life savings after moving it from a hiding place in their caravan into a bank have won the right to sue for its return.

The Brazils, who were both in prison when letters were allegedly forged which took the money out of their accounts, are seeking reimbursement by Natwest Offshore Ltd, trading as Isle of Man Bank.

At an earlier hearing Mrs Brazil said that she and her husband, of the Whitegates Caravan Park, Station Road, Dunscroft,were jailed for obtaining property by deception, during which time Mr Brazil shared a cell with an accountant who told him about accountants who had taken money from clients.

On her release in November, 1992, Mrs Brazil checked and discovered that their accounts had been closed. The bank had received a letter, purporting to be signed by the Brazils, with instruction to pay the money to various third parties and addresses.

She told the court that she later challenged their accountant, Michael Alderton, who admitted forgery and said he had used the money to buy them a controlling interest in a lucrative transport company.

Mrs Brazil spoke to Keith Hewson at the Douglas bank on December 1, 1992, and demanded repayment of the money. It was on this telephone conversation that the bank mounted part of its defence.

The bank claimed this had been the start of the suit against them, so that when a statement of claim against them was finally made in 1999, it was outside the six-year period in which legal proceedings had to be brought.

But the Brazils'lawyers maintained that the first demand for repayment was actually made in March, 1994, after the couple instructed solicitors to act for them.

The couple went to the High Court in Douglas and asked Deemster Kerruish, the justice, for a declaration that the proceedings were issued within the time allowed.

Deemster Kerruish said he was satisfied that the 1992 phone conversation was an oral demand, and that any demand for repayment had to be made in writing.

He ruled that the oral demand was not valid and therefore the proceedings were started within the period allowed.

The deemster's judgement does not indicate whether or when the substantive claim against the bank, for the return of the 355,038, will now be heard.

*Woodford and Co Accountants of Hallgate have asked us to point out that they have no connection with Michael Alderton.