Manchester fraud solicitors achieve acquittal
CROWN COURT AT NORTHAMPTON
The above named Defendant appeared for trial before Mr Recorder Lockheart charged with:-
STATEMENT OF OFFENCE
Conspiracy to Steal, contrary to Section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977.
PARTICULARS OF OFFENCE
The Defendant between the 28th day of January 2011 and the 25th day of May 2011 conspired together with others to steal money from British Gas PLC.
STATEMENT OF OFFENCE
Conspiracy to convert criminal property contrary to Section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977.
PARTICULARS OF OFFENCE
The Defendant between the above dates conspired with others to convert criminal property.
One other Defendant had previously pleaded Guilty to both Counts 1 & 2 whilst other co-defendants had pleaded Guilty to Count 2.
The Defendant was represented by David E. Taylor Counsel of 7 Harrington Street Chambers.
The Crown’s case was that the Defendant during 2011 was employed by British Gas in its Electricity Imbalance Team and were part of a team consisting of managers, team leaders and team members, whose task was to identify and resolve anomalies in Business Customer Accounts.
The Prosecution claimed that the Defendant worked on “dormant accounts”. These were accounts that had overpayments made by the customer but the customer no longer used British Gas services. The Defendant always denied that he ever worked on “dormant accounts” which were part of the “gold project” and first appeared on a spreadsheet known as the Gold Vertigo System.
The Prosecution claimed that the Defendant was part of a conspiracy that netted the Defendants a total of £114,774.47.
The computer system that British Gas use to keep track of its customers, to send them bills, to record their usage and manage their accounts was known as the Service Desk Billings System. The case against the Defendant was that he used his unique ID and password to access the Service Desk Billings System in respect of 7 dormant accounts and change the customers’ bank account, sort code, account name and other personal details.
Once these details were changed a co-defendant would telephone British Gas posing as the customer and then ask for his overpayment to be refunded which it duly was. The Defendant never made such calls. The bank accounts into which the refunds were paid belonged to co-defendants, they having supplied their bank account details it was alleged to the Defendant before the refund was credited.
Once the over-payment was credited to one of the co-defendant bank accounts, the Crown alleged that the Defendants unique ID and passwords were used to access again the Service Desk Billings System in order to change the details of such bank accounts back to the legitimate details for the legitimate customer.
The Defendant had always denied that he had ever accessed the 7 “dormant” bank accounts which had been attacked.
Mr Taylor demanded full disclosure of all documentation including emails, computer records and spreadsheets, that existed at the time of the alleged offences in 2011.
Despite the evidence of a senior manager, it became apparent as a result of forcing such disclosure that the Defendant had never had access to any of the “dormant accounts” and so therefore could not have played any part in the conspiracy to steal.
The Crown accepted ultimately that there existed no reliable evidence upon which a jury could conclude that the Defendant had indeed accessed such 7 dormant accounts and there was no evidence of linkage between the Defendant and the co-defendant who had already pleaded Guilty to Counts 1 & 2.
Although CCTV existed in the building, the Crown had not thought to produce any footage as part of their case.
Further, there was no phone evidence adduced to link the defendant to any of the co-defendants.
Mr Taylor established by skilful cross-examination that 6 of the 7 dormant accounts had in fact been accessed by the co-defendant who had already pleaded Guilty to Counts 1 & 2 in respect of other “dormant” accounts.
Mr Taylor further established that all such information was available to British Gas at the time but had not been disclosed to the Defence.
Therefore, the defendant had unnecessarily been charged and as a young man of good character had suffered two years of worry and depression.
The Crown Prosecution should have conducted a rigorous enquiry before bringing the charges against the Defendant and a review of disclosure would have saved what misfortunate befell the Defendant in having the charges brought against him.
No work logs were ever produced by the Prosecution in relation to the Defendant.
Mr Taylor established that there was no evidence of computer analysis and no evidence at all as to what days the Defendant actually was at the British Gas premises.
The Prosecution had failed to adduce relevant exhibits and “swipe card” records.
The trial lasted 4 days; ultimately justice was seen to be done in that the Defendant was discharged in respect of both Counts.
The Learned Recorder made a Defence Costs Order.
As a result of the ill-founded Prosecution the Defendant suffered unnecessary worry, resulting in depression. He was already physically disabled and had to use crutches, having suffered serious injury whilst playing football.
It was always the Defendant’s case, as he stated at a disciplinary hearing held earlier, that he had never used his password and username to change any details on the dormant accounts but such password and username must have been used by somebody else, namely a co-defendant. The Defendant was proved right and could have been discovered by British Gas at the time and if such rigorous enquiry had been made as to the computer records, then the Prosecution would never have been brought.
The Defendant is considering what redress he can now take against his former employers.
The Defendant’s good name was saved by fierce defence fought by Mr Taylor and the lack of evidence eventually conceded by the Crown Prosecution Service.
Mr Taylor is a Senior Counsel who is instructed by Ashcotts Solicitors in high profile cases where their fight for justice continues.