Friday, March 13, 2015

More British bungling

A couple accused of claiming £42,500 in benefits while sending their children to a top private school and living in a £1,950 a month house were cleared today.

Judge William Hart threw out the case against Leslie and Sarah Grant because the Department of Work and Pensions lost letters written by Mr Grant that would have supported his case.

The 67-year-old from Cheltenham insisted he had written to the DWP notifying them of a change in his financial circumstances.

During the trial the Government department denied ever receiving these letters but in evidence yesterday Tracey Tye, a DWP investigator, conceded there was a computer record of letters being received from him. She said they could not be accessed to check their contents because they had been ‘archived’ and were no longer retrievable.

Judge Hart ruled that because the prosecution was unable to produce the letters to show whether they contained what Mr Grant alleged it would be unsafe to leave the case to the jury.

He directed the jury to find the couple not guilty of defrauding the DWP between 2009 and 2011.

The couple had been accused of falsely claiming £42,500, consisting of £19,000 of pension benefit, £19,000 of housing benefit and £4,500 of council tax benefit to fund their lifestyle.

Sarah Grant, also received a £40,000 payment from her parents and was drawing income as a director of three companies during the time she and husband Leslie, 67, were claiming benefits, Gloucester Crown Court heard.

Mr and Mrs Grant say they were penniless as a number of businesses went bust and needed state support.

This was received while Mrs Grant got money from her mum, there was income from the pair's businesses and business account were being used for personal expenditure, it was said.

Prosecutors also say they had around £50,000 in the bank, but today a second forensic accountant told the court she felt that the Grants had no income entering their bank accounts.

Mr Grant, 67, had been receiving pension credit since November 2007, despite running his wife's companies, Hadleigh Partnership, Hadleigh Development and Sarafino Ltd, prosecutors claim.

Funds were used to sent their children to Dean Close School in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, and to pay for expensive child care and high rent.

Investigations into their affairs began when questions were raised about how they were able to pay £1,950 a month rent with just £775 a month housing allowance.

Mrs Grant was questioned by benefit officials in May 2010 and said that her parents had paid the rent shortfalls and school fees.

The couple, from Cheltenham, claim that the firms they were involved in at the time were in liquidation.

On Wednesday a forensic accountant told the court that after analysing the pair's bank accounts it was clear they had more than £48,000 available to them.

Neil Ward explained that between them the pair had four bank accounts and his job was to analyse the accounts to decide what was 'personal' income and what related to the business.

He told the jury that he assessed each payment made and even went through nine ring binders full of receipts to try and ascertain where cash had been spent.

In his report he also asked: 'What is income? Luxury items such as school fees, extravagant holidays, expensive purchases, nice clothes, could all mean an income.

Mr and Mrs Grant both deny falsely claiming pension credits and housing and council tax benefit without declaring they had other income.

But defence witness Helen Gregory- a forensic accountant - said the couple were clearly struggling with money as a number of their businesses went under.

She explained how Sarafinos Ltd, a coffee shop opened in Folkestone and Birmingham, was hoped to become a chain but it collapsed shortly after opening.

Instead the pair opened a restaurant called The Courtyard in Cheltenham. The couple also opened D'Altos, a company aimed at running fast food outlets which ran for just two months.

The couple's building companies, Hadleigh Partnership and Hadleigh Development also went into liquidation.

Mrs Gregory also argued that the £40,000 given to Sarah Grant by her mother was clearly a loan and did not count as income.

She said: 'They were struggling. They were doing their best to make things work. They had a number of businesses and they had become accustomed to a certain lifestyle.

'Their businesses went under but they were trying to maintain that level of living. 'It took them about a year to try and get back on their feet financially.

'I don't believe they were receiving any income. I understood the money to be a short term loan from Mrs Grant's mother to get her back on her feet.'

Original report here

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