The first financial abuse prosecution by the West Yorkshire Financial Exploitation and Abuse Team (WYFEAT) reached the courts last week, resulting in the conviction of two offenders who pleaded guilty to offences relating to the financial abuse of a vulnerable Calderdale resident.
On June 24 at Bradford Crown Court, Sharon Hughes and Miles Ogden pleaded guilty to offences committed against a vulnerable adult. Hughes pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position and Ogden pleaded guilty to an offence under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.
The two-year investigation began following the report of rogue trading activity. Ogden had agreed to undertake maintenance work at the victim’s address and to build a summer house in her garden. Before commencing the work he took payment of £38,000 – a grossly exaggerated price for the intended work, which is likely to have cost around £6,000 in reality – 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 Ogden, the victim confided in WYFEAT officers, alleging that she was being financially exploited by a neighbour or friend. The victim has physical and learning difficulties and was isolated, and had become reliant upon Hughes. WYFEAT, working in partnership with Calderdale Council, undertook a complex investigation which revealed that the victim had, over a period of around a year, transferred more than £114,000 to Hughes which she later used to purchase property in her sole name. Hughes had told the victim that she would pay her the money back, but 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 gathered by WYFEAT 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, benefiting financially from a life-changing amount of money.
The case has been listed for sentencing on August 5, 2019 at Bradford Crown Court where applications will be made under the Proceeds of Crime Act to seek to recover the victim’s money.
Set up three years ago, initially to tackle fraud and financial abuse by rogue traders, WYFEAT was expanded last year 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, a police officer and social worker, and supported by the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, WYFEAT has so far secured more than 14 years of prison sentences for rogue traders, and investigated more than 200 allegations of financial exploitation and abuse of adults at risk.
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.
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. The 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.”