How a quaint British village went from rags to crypto riches… and then lost it all

A crypto tale of highs and lows and how a village was charmed by a wolf in geek’s clothing

The Potters Arms, with its white washed exterior adorned with bright floral arrangements and hanging baskets is exactly what comes to mind when you think of a quintessential country pub.

It is set in the heart of the idyllic village of Winchmore Hill, just north-east of Slough, a place half an hour away by train from central London. With its winding lanes and expansive greenery as far as the eye can see, the area is a far cry from the metallic slick of Silicon valley – the more traditional playground for tech bros. But, for a while at least in the latter half of 2021, this community in the belly of rural England became an unlikely recruiting ground for a crypto currency called Koda.

‘In winter it looks like Narnia,’ Pete Gilbert, the pub landlord tells me as he gives me a tour. ‘All covered in snow it looks absolutely unbelievable and then in the spring with the yellow coming through.’

The reason I’m speaking to Pete is because he is a pretty key player in the story of Koda and The Potters arms, which I’ve been investigating for BBC Radio 4’s The Wolf of Crypto.

Pete, the landlord of The Potters Arms was the first in the village to invest in the crypto currency (Picture: Maureen McLean/REX/Shutterstock)
Many people in the village of Winchmore Hill were keen to get involved in the cypto currency game (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

He was the first in Winchmore Hill to invest in the crypto currency when it launched in the summer of 2021 and in his role as landlord of The Potters Arms he promoted the opportunity to family, friends and pub regulars.

He estimates that there are probably hundreds of people who either directly or indirectly invested in Koda because of him.

Now, they’ve lost that money.

Koda was founded in May 2021 by the then 32-year-old James Gale. The venture wasn’t his first business, for the previous decade he’d been running a successful pest control company, and since 2018 had been dabbling in the world of crypto with his own money.

However, Koda was a new venture for the entrepreneur, his first professional foray into the world of crypto with other people’s money.

And straight away the business was hitting the headlines. Unlike traditional crypto coins, where you can never tell who exactly owns the currency, Koda was upfront about who was in charge and what it wanted to achieve. It was a refreshing change from bigger enterprises such as Bitcoin and Ethereum, with the company’s motto being ‘trust, education and ease of access.’

There was a huge fanfare around the start-up, too. The lavish launch party was attended by porn stars and entertainers, while Lamborghinis lined the street outside.

‘I prefer to refer to myself as a geek in wolf’s clothing,’ James Gale told a My London reporter (Picture:Linkedin)

In an interview the next day with a reporter for My London, Gale described how money could buy happiness and that he was already earning a new nickname: ‘The Wolf of Crypto’. However, he added, ‘I prefer to refer to myself as a geek in wolf’s clothing.

‘I plan to make everyone involved in the project millionaires,’ he continued to the reporter, adding: ‘I’m going to make people’s dreams come true. But for me, in the not too distant future I won’t just be a millionaire, I’ll be a billionaire.’

Just a few weeks later, in the September of 2021, Gale also launched a car giveaway in which over the course of a year, three lucky investors would each win a sports car.

It was shortly after the launch of Koda that landlord Pete came across the crypto coin.

Having left school over 30 years ago with no qualifications, he’d made his wealth originally working on building sites and then later buying, renovating and selling houses. It was through one of his contacts in the building industry that Pete claims he first encountered Koda.

A friend had been working at the offices and told him about the project. Curious, Pete went down to the offices, met the team and invested.

Before too long, Pete was running crypto nights at the pub (Picture: Getty Images)

At first, the value of the currency he’d bought seemed to be going up and up – so he invested more. At the same time, the landlord was recommending the product to family, friends and pub regulars.

Before too long, Pete was running crypto nights at the pub with members of the Koda team in attendance to help people who might want to invest.

‘Imagine you want to buy Bitcoin for example,’ Pete tells me. ‘You’re a crypto virgin and you have to learn it yourself. But with this, what you got was professional help. It was “put him on the phone” professional help, and that’s what gave it substance.’

32-year-old Lewis, one of the pub regulars agrees that this was part of the appeal. ‘I think the risk feels bigger with Bitcoin and stuff, because it didn’t have that whereas Koda did,’ he explains. ‘Early opportunity I think is not a thing for a lot of people and it [Koda] had a lot of benefits. There’s not a lot of crypto companies that had a home office space.’

However, Koda wasn’t just grabbing the attention of The Potters Arms, it was also getting national recognition within the media.

As well as being featured in My London, James Gale and Koda were also profiled in The Times and The Sun, where James provided readers with a list of ‘red flags to avoid when investing in crypto’. He also warned investors to ‘only invest what you can afford to lose’.

But he wasn’t just getting the thumbs up in print.

Koda became the sponsors of local football team Slough FC (Picture: Twitter/@CoinKoda)
The Koda team played in a charity match with actors Danny Dyer and Will Mellor (Picture: Twitter/@CoinKoda)

In the summer of 2021, a sponsorship deal was announced between Koda and the local football team Slough Town FC. The Koda team, alongside Danny Dyer, former footballer Nicky Shorey and actor Will Mellor were playing charity football matches against the club.

Two Pints star Will later posted that Koda were the ‘UK leaders’ in crypto and NFTs, in January 2022, while just over a year after Koda had launched, James was speaking as an expert voice on the documentary Crypto: Has The Bubble Burst?

‘Crypto currency took my love and I built a real world business around it,’ he told presenter Ade Adepitan. ‘So we have a face you know and I’m here as what we call doxed, which is a means of sharing my identity.’

The documentary, made by Parable Works, aired on Channel 4 on 9 August 2022. But already there were concerns about whether things were going well at Koda.

In the previous November, the value of the currency, like many others such as Bitcoin, had plummeted due to an industry-wide decline. However, while some coins bounced back before a second crypto crash the following May, Koda’s value continued to drop. To this day, it hasn’t picked up.

The impact of this was devastating on the community,

‘I’d lost my son four years ago and that had made me look at the world in a different light,’ explains Lewis Blackmore, when talking about why he’d invested in Koda.

‘I’ve worked for a builders for 12 or 13 years, constantly grafting. I got myself to a place where there wasn’t any more opportunities for me to get ahead in life so I had to make a decision to find an investment to move forward in life because no-one’s going to do that for me.

‘Hence why I invested,’ he adds. ‘If Koda hasn’t gone the way it went it could have changed my life massively.’

In total, Lewis lost just under £5,000 but he considers himself to be lucky. Many of the investors, including a friend of Pete’s, a man called Bobby, lost tens of thousands of pounds, their entire life savings.

The village was rocked by the losses from their crypto currency investments (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

‘I think because of the way it was being sold, it was the fact that moving forward it would be something that you were safe with,’ Bobby’s partner Amber told me. ‘I don’t think he felt like it could ever fail.’

Bobby died in July 2022 of suicide. The coroners report into his death found that his mental health was a contributing factor. Amber, who is going by a pseudonym, believes that losing so much money in Koda was a huge impact on his emotional wellbeing.

‘It caused him not to sleep and worry about money,’ she explains. ‘Money issues moving forwards and how he could ever recuperate what he’d lost, where he’d not slept for so long. He started hallucinating and he would just say, “If only I could sleep one night”.’

Over the course of the Radio 4 investigation, a number of those who invested, as well as former employees, have spoken out about how the company was run and whether this contributed to failure of the currency.

While the BBC found no evidence that Gale did anything other than preside over a cryptocurrency that precipitously dropped in value, there were a number of practices that raise concern.

A quick look on Companies House found that Koda’s parent company Summit Better Crypto Ltd was registered in 2021. However, over the two years it was registered, no financial documents were submitted.

Over the course of the Radio 4 investigation, a number of those who invested, as well as former employees, have spoken out about how the company was run(Picture: Getty Images)

When the BBC put this to Gale he said that all of Koda’s trading had actually been done through his Dubai Company Summit Better Crypto DMCC.

Summit Better Crypto Ltd had never actually traded in the UK, he said.

Of the three cars in the prize giveaway, it turns out that only one was ever issued as a prize. The second car was sold to an ex-employee in return for Koda, while the third prize was never even purchased by the company.

Gale explained that this was because there weren’t enough entrants to the competition – however, so far, no information has been found to show that he had made investors aware that it had been cancelled.

And the Slough football deal? Well, that was supposed to be a two year deal, but half way through Gale backed out shortly before the second season was due to start. As a result, the club spent half a season without the sponsorship funding they’d budgeted for.

Gale told the BBC this was a commercial decision and he was unaware of any financial difficulty faced by the club.

It was also alleged that Gale sent abusive messages to a fired employee Carl Dawkins, who raised concerns about Koda on his Youtube channel. Gale has since admitted he sent these, but added that he has apologised to Carl.

A number of other people involved in Koda also allege that they have, or that they know of people who have, been sent anonymous death threats which reference the crypto company. However, there is no evidence that these threats came from Gale and he denies sending them. 

In fact, when approached, Gale pointed out that he himself has been the victim of harassment and that landlord Pete Gilbert had been sending abusive tweets. When asked about why he sent them, Gilbert said he wished to provide ‘no comment’.

Two days after the BBC contacted James Gale on the 17 July for an interview or response, he stepped down from Koda.

He told the BBC this had been planned for some time and was a result of being subject to a relentless campaign of abuse and attacks. Gale wholeheartedly denies any allegation that he acted wrongly, misled anyone or tried to wrongly or unfairly incentivise people to invest in Koda.

For the people of Winchmore Hill, the fear is that the Koda fever that once gripped the community will have lasting impact. All they hope to do is remain tightknit as they try to look forward and move on with their lives.  

You can listen to The Wolf of Crypto on BBC sounds now.

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