Custodial sentences for financial abusers (6 Aug 2019)

Two individuals who were the subject of the first financial abuse prosecution by the West Yorkshire Financial Exploitation and Abuse Team (WYFEAT) were sentenced yesterday (5th August 2019) at Bradford Crown Court for offences relating to the financial exploitation and abuse of a vulnerable Calderdale resident.

Sharon HUGHES of Ascot Grove, Brighouse and Miles OGDEN of Denbrook Walk, Bradford were sentenced for offences committed against a vulnerable adult. HUGHES, who had earlier pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position, was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment, suspended for 2 years, 240 hours of unpaid work and 25 day of rehabilitation activity. OGDEN, who had earlier pleaded guilty to an offence under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, was sentenced to 5 months imprisonment, suspended for 1 year and 160 hours of unpaid work.

Set up three years ago, initially to tackle fraud and financial abuse by rogue traders, WYFEAT was expanded in 2018 to enable the team's expertise to support the five West Yorkshire councils in investigating safeguarding referrals relating to allegations of financial abuse. With Trading Standards Officers, Financial Investigators, Police Officer and Social Worker, and supported by the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, it has so far secured over 14 years of prison sentences for rogue traders, and investigated over 250 allegations of financial exploitation and abuse of adults at risk.

The two year investigation by WYFEAT began after a report of rogue trading activity at the victim's home address. Miles Ogden had agreed to undertake maintenance work at the victim's address and to build a summer house in her garden. He took payment from her of £38,000, a grossly exaggerated price for the intended work, which should have cost around £6,000 in reality, prior to the work commencing, but then failed to return to complete. The construction of the summer house did not begin and the work that Ogden had completed was significantly overpriced and of a poor standard.

During the investigation into Miles Ogden, the victim confided in WYFEAT officers, alleging that she was being financially exploited by a neighbour/ friend. The victim has physical and learning difficulties and was isolated and had become reliant upon HUGHES, who had previously been a carer for the victim's mother whilst the family lived in the South of England. Working in partnership with Calderdale Council, the complex investigation revealed that over a period of around a year, the victim had transferred over £114,000 to HUGHES which HUGHES later used to purchase property in her sole name. HUGHES had told the victim that she would pay her the money back, however this never happened. The victim had also handed over £12,500 to HUGHES towards the purchase of a car which was never repaid.

Witness evidence painted a picture of bullying and intimidation of the victim by HUGHES, with evidence showing that as a result of her relationship with the victim, HUGHES had been afforded the opportunity to abuse her position against this vulnerable victim, benefitting financially from a life changing amount of money.

Sentencing the pair His Honour Judge Burn stated that greed had got the better of them both and that they had been driven by a failure to resist the urge to profit from the victim who they knew to be both vulnerable and wealthy.

Confiscation Order applications under the Proceeds of Crime Act were made by His Honour Judge Burn ordering HUGHES to repay £114,000.00 and OGDEN £12,538.77. These recovered funds will be paid over to the victim in this case as compensation. A restraining order was also made prohibiting either HUGHES or OGDEN from approaching or communicating with the victim for the next 10 years. .

This case is the first prosecution for fraud by abuse of position to be dealt with in the courts following WYFEAT's criminal investigations. A number of other similar investigations are ongoing, and are likely to result in legal proceedings in the coming months.

Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), said: "This is a shocking example of exploitation perpetrated by people the victim should have been able to trust.

The complexity of cases of this nature cannot be overlooked and the WYFEAT have done truly commendable work in bringing these offenders to justice, sending a strong message to anyone thinking of doing something similar.

I have provided funding and support to the WYFEAT for a number of years as part of my commitment to safeguard vulnerable people. Results such as this one really do help to keep our communities safe."

The Leader of Calderdale Council, Cllr Tim Swift, said: "The Trading Standards team worked tirelessly to bring these people to justice. We are extremely committed to protecting residents of Calderdale from financial exploitation and we do all we can to prevent abuse of this nature. This case should serve as a warning of the potential consequences to those who are thinking about exploiting people and we welcome the support from WYFEAT in tackling this horrendous crime."

Linda Davis, Head of the WYFEAT Task Force said of the case: "Both OGDEN and HUGHES committed despicable crimes, taking advantage of an extremely vulnerable lady, to dupe her out of significant amounts of money. Our investigation uncovered evidence suggesting a pattern of controlling and coercive behaviour by HUGHES towards the victim, enabling her to defraud the victim of over a hundred thousand pounds, which she then used to buy a house and a car. Evidence suggests that HUGHES' behaviour isolated the victim from family and friends in order to make her more reliant on her for help and support. "

If you have a concern about someone vulnerable who you believe may be a victim of financial abuse or fraud, please contact us via the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06

© Copyright West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner 2019