NEWS
28/09/2018 14:54 BST | Updated 28/09/2018 16:45 BST

Grenfell Fraudsters Stole £500,000 – But Just £1,000 Has Been Recovered For The Victims

Council legal experts are currently figuring out how to reclaim the funds.

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A banner with a green heart wrapped around the Grenfell Tower, one year after the blaze claimed 72 lives

Of almost £500,000 of public money fraudulently claimed by people pretending to be victims of the Grenfell Tower fire just £1,000 has been recovered, HuffPost UK can reveal.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has confirmed that much of the money lost may never be returned to Kensington and Chelsea Council and charities that were duped into handing out financial support to fake survivors.

This is because those convicted of the offences were in many cases homeless or did not have access to bank accounts.

A CPS spokesperson said: “The CPS works hard to recover funds from offenders who have benefited financially from their crimes.

“The people we have successfully prosecuted for Grenfell related fraud were almost exclusively given non-monetary support in the form of hotel accommodation, food and clothing, which cannot be recovered.

“Many were homeless or did not have access to bank accounts which meant there was no money or property to recover.

“However, in the few cases where funds could be returned, the CPS successfully applied for a court order which ensured they were returned to the charities which donated them.”

Figures compiled by HuffPost UK show £486,832 has been lost in cases of fraud relating to the Grenfell fire that have so far reached court. 

Action under the Proceeds of Crime Act can be used to try and recover lost money or property involved in criminal cases. But so far, it is understood that no proceedings of this nature have been launched in the Grenfell fraud cases.

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A silent march to commemorate the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, which killed 71 people

Moyra Samuels, of Justice4Grenfell, who lives 300 metres from the tower block in west London, said there was little point trying to retrieve the lost funds.

The spokeswoman for the group representing victims of the catastrophic fire, which led to the deaths of 72 people, said while the actions were “immoral” they also showed the desperation of some who were homeless.

“Quite frankly I don’t know how this money can be returned,” she told HuffPost UK. “I think it’s indicative of a homeless situation where people actually are that desperate that they’re prepared to take advantage of a disaster like this, they’re prepared to commit fraud on a community because they’re that desperate to get housed.

“But I also think it’s to do with the council and the council’s inability to manage the situation and to not know who their residents are, who is a genuine resident and who is not a genuine resident.”

She added: “We know we are in a housing crisis, so people will do desperate things. And for me, every day that there’s a new case, I keep asking the question - like a lot of us do within the community - how come you don’t know who your residents are?

“I know it is absolutely immoral to do this and none of us agree with it, but there are lots of other questions to be asked.” 

To date, 10 cases of fraud relating to the Grenfell disaster have been through the courts.

These include the case of former Kensington and Chelsea Council finance worker Jenny McDonagh, who was on Friday jailed for five-and-a-half years for stealing £62,000 to finance her luxury lifestyle.

The CPS has requested the court consider a Proceeds of Crime Order against McDonagh.

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Former finance manager for Kensington and Chelsea Council Jenny McDonagh fraudulently took £62,000 from the Grenfell Tower victim fund

Data obtained by HuffPost UK shows the £1,000 the CPS has recovered relates to the conviction of Anh Nhy Nguyen, 53, of Beckenham Road, Bromley. It has also applied to recover three mobile phones, a laptop and some clothes in this case. 

It is understood Nguyen had transferred money to a friend’s account and the friend voluntarily handed £1,000 back to the CPS.

Nguyen falsely posed as a survivor of the fire and was even pictured shaking hands with Prince Charles in the aftermath of the blaze.

He pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud to gain money, hotel accommodation and clothing worth £11,270 at Southwark Crown Court and was sentenced to 21 months in jail in February.

Police also recovered £3,000 on arresting fake Grenfell survivor Yonatan Eyob, 26, of Hurstway Walk, Notting Hill, but it is unclear if this money will return to those affected by the tragedy. 

Eyob was caught with large amounts of drugs in his hotel room after falsely claiming almost £90,000 worth of emergency accommodation, in the largest known convicted Grenfell fraud so far.

Of the 10 court cases, four involved people who had no fixed address and the CPS says another four of the convicted have no money in their accounts.

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Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad said being homeless was no excuse for the frauds

Kensington MP Emma Dent Coad said although the fraudsters were homeless they were still criminals.

“It is shocking but true that disasters such as Grenfell attract a certain kind of fraudster who is willing, without scruples, to demand and use funds set aside for those who have lost everything, including family members,” said the Labour MP.

“It is hardly relevant to the process of criminal justice that some of these fraudsters were homeless, they are still criminals.

“If it is true that more than £400,000 has been lost, that is a huge sum, especially when many of those genuinely affected are struggling with their bills and the council are pursuing some of them for full rent on their temporary accommodation.”

The actions of those posing as fake survivors have previously been condemned by Det Supt Matt Bonner, senior investigating officer for Operation Northleigh, as “truly appalling”.

Kensington and Chelsea Council says it will pursue all means possible to try and retrieve funds lost and reclaim public money for real survivors. 

Kim Taylor-Smith, deputy leader of the council, told HuffPost UK: “These actions are disgraceful and fraud is an issue the council takes very seriously, both because we have a duty to protect taxpayers money and because genuine survivors and bereaved families have raised concerns with us, which we share.

“Our priority has been to assist and help first – it is only right that we do so when families are faced with such extreme trauma and tragedy.

“However, where officers had doubts, they reported it and our fraud team has worked, over many months, with the police to build cases and push for prosecutions against anyone who sought to take advantage of last year’s terrible tragedy.

“We will pursue all legal avenues available to recover taxpayers money that was fraudulently claimed by individuals that were not affected by the Grenfell tragedy.”

The council’s legal experts are currently identifying how it can go about reclaiming funds.

The Grenfell fraud cases

Jenny McDonagh

McDonagh, 39, of Abbey Wood, was jailed for five-and-a-half years on Friday for stealing £62,000. She pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud by abuse of position, one of theft by an employee and one of money laundering. The CPS has requested the court consider a Proceeds of Crime Order against McDonagh.

Abdelkarim Rekaya

Abdelkarim Rekaya, 28, of Lots Road, Chelsea, pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation on September 21 relating to £88,183.70. He is due to be sentenced in November.

Yonatan Eyob

Eyob, of Hurstway Walk, Notting Hill, was jailed for fraud by false representation for claiming £86,831.55 in hotel accommodation and living expenses. He pleaded guilty and was jailed for six years and eight months in September. Police recovered £3,000 cash from drug dealing on arrest, which was forfeited

Antonio Gouveia

Gouveia, 33, a cleaner, of no fixed address, was jailed for three years and two months in September after pleading guilty to fraud by false representation relating to £53,456.76. The CPS says no application has been made to retrieve funds as he was homeless.

Derrick Peters

Peters, 58, of no fixed address, was jailed for fraud by false representation for claiming £38,784. He pleaded guilty and was jailed for six years in August. The CPS says no application has been made to retrieve funds as he was homeless.

Mohammad Gamoota

Gamoota, 31, of Croydon, pleaded guilty to fraud worth £1,784.35 and was jailed for 18 months in June. The CPS says no application has been made to retrieve funds as there is no money in his bank accounts. 

Joyce Msokeri

Msokeri, 47, of Ambleside Gardens, Sutton, was jailed for four years and six months after being found guilty of fraud relating to £19,000. The CPS says no application has been made to retrieve funds as there is no money in her bank accounts. 

Anh Nhu Nguyen

Nguyen, 53, of Beckenham Road, Bromley, pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation relating to £11,270 and was jailed for 21 months in February. The CPS recovered £1,000 in money and has also applied to recover three mobile phones, a laptop and some clothes he was given.

Elaine Douglas

Douglas, 51, of no fixed address, was jailed for three years in July after pleading guilty to fraud by false representation relating to £67,125.35. The CPS says there is no money to seize as they gained from hotel accommodation and day-to-day expenses.

Tommy Brooks

Brooks, 52, of no fixed address, was jailed for three years and three months in July after pleading guilty to fraud by false representation relating to £58,396.89. The CPS says there is no money to seize as they gained from hotel accommodation and day-to-day expenses.