Former Norfolk police officer Ben Staff jailed for four and a half years for fraud

PUBLISHED: 15:54 03 January 2017 | UPDATED: 08:04 04 January 2017

Ben Staff outside King's Lynn Court. Photo: Picture: Ian Burt

Ben Staff outside King's Lynn Court. Photo: Picture: Ian Burt

A former police officer began a four-and-a-half-year prison sentence on Tuesday after carrying out a series of frauds across Norfolk’s building trade totalling £1m.

Detective Inspector Liz Fernandes, from Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU), led the investigation into Ben Staff. Photo: ArchantDetective Inspector Liz Fernandes, from Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU), led the investigation into Ben Staff. Photo: Archant

Ex-Norfolk PC Ben Staff was jailed at Norwich Crown Court after previously being found guilty in two trials of fraud-related offences between 2009 and 2014.

The 35 year-old traded off the reputation of the police to gain the trust of victims and then used money intended for business accounts to fund his own lavish lifestyle, Norfolk Police said.

His victims included suppliers and contractors in Norfolk’s building trade, a business partner, as well as the Inland Revenue.

Jailing him on Tuesday afternoon, Judge Mark Dennis told Staff: “You were dealing with honest and hardworking individuals who were acting in the same difficult financial climate that you faced.”

He said Staff, of Lucas Court Thorpe St Andrew, had “continually fobbed people off”. “This was thoroughly dishonest conduct” he said. “You slipped into a selfish habit of dishonesty which became your default position.”

His frauds first came to light following an investigation by this newspaper in 2013.

He was convicted of two counts of fraud, two counts of false accounting, one count of converting criminal property and one count of fraudulent trading in relation to businesses including Mr Trades Ltd, SES East Anglia and Morpheus Homes at King’s Lynn Crown Court.

In the second trial at Norwich Crown Court, Staff was found guilty of fraud and converting criminal property.

Ben Staff leaving Norwich magistrates court in 2008. Photo: Archant.Ben Staff leaving Norwich magistrates court in 2008. Photo: Archant.

Payments relating to his building and development companies went into Staff’s own personal accounts. Police said some of that money was used to fund a holiday, home renovations, pay for his wedding and lease cars.

But Amiot Vollenweider, mitigating for Staff, disputed that he had used the money to fund his own lavish lifestyle.

He also claimed the total value of the offences was far less than £1m.

Mr Vollenweider told the court Staff had started his businesses after leaving the police in 2008 with honest intentions and had “borrowed from Peter to pay Paul” which had led to the frauds.

He told the judge that as a former police officer being in an “overcrowded prison” would have a “profound effect” on Staff.

Judge Dennis replied: “A former policeman should have known better.”

His victims, meanwhile, are still owed thousands of pounds.

Speaking after the court case on Tuesday afternoon, Martyn Green who is owed around £25,000 by Staff for houses built in Hainford, said: “I see it as closure but at the same time I don’t feel it (the prison sentence length) was enough.”

Detective Inspector Liz Fernandes, who led the investigation, said: “It gives closure for the victims that the matter is finally resolved and we can move towards confiscation and trying to compensate something for the victims.”

Staff still has assets, including three properties, and the court heard a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing was likely to take place in May this year.

Staff was also banned from being a director of companies for ten years.

His wife, Catriona, 33, was charged in both trials but cleared on all counts.

She was a serving Norfolk Police officer during the case and faced internal disciplinary procedures after being suspended from duty in 2014 pending the outcome of legal proceedings.

Timeline of the case

2008 - Ben Staff leaves Norfolk police and sets up first firm, Staff Electrical Services

2010 - Norfolk Trading Standards receive complaint about Ben Staff. The case is not taken further

2012 - Police first investigate Staff after a complaint

May 2013 - EDP and Evening News publish an investigation into Staff’s business practices

February 2014 - Ben Staff and wife Catriona arrested

November 2014 - Ben Staff charged with multiple counts of fraud, Catriona charged with money laundering

March 2016 - Ben Staff found guilt of six charges including fraud. Catriona cleared of money laundering

December 2016 - Ben Staff found guilty of fraud in a second trial. Catriona cleared of money laundering

January 2017 - Ben Staff is jailed at Norwich Crown Court

What was Staff guilty of?

Ben Staff was found guilty of eight allegations following a trial at King’s Lynn Crown Court in March last year and a second trial at Norwich Crown Court which ended in December 2016. They are:

•Count 1: fraudulent trading

From September 2011 to July 2012 Staff defrauded the creditors of his company Mr Trades of £198,070.

•Count 2: fraud

From September 2011 to July 2012 Staff was guilty of fraud by making “false representations to various creditors”, by writing 56 cheques on behalf of Mr Trades totalling £340,711 which bounced.

•Count 3: false accounting

From September 2010 to October 2012 Staff “dishonestly” falsified the company accounts of Mr Trades.

•Count 4: false accounting

Between July 2009 and January 2014 he again “dishonestly” falsified the accounts of a another of his company’s SES (East Anglia) Ltd.

•Count 5: fraud

From April 2012 to September 2012 Staff committed fraud against Alex Sexton by telling him that £140,000 belonging to Mr Sexton would be invested in a company called Morpheus Homes Ltd when at the time of the bulk of the investment, it did not exist. Money was paid through the personal bank accounts of Ben and his wife Catriona Staff.

•Count 6: converting criminal property

From April 2012 to September 2012 Staff converted criminal property namely, £140,000 from Mr Sexton “knowing or suspecting it to represent in whole or part and whether directly or indirectly, the proceeds of criminal conduct”.

•Count 7: converting criminal property

From July 2009 to September 2014 he converted criminal property, namely £653,000 due to his own companies. Those companies included Staff Energy Services Ltd, Staff Electrical Services Ltd, Mr Trades Limited, Morpheus Homes, SES (East Anglia) Limited, Norfolk Metal and Waste Recycling Ltd.

•Count 8: fraud

From November 2011 to July 2014, Staff committed fraud by making a “false representation to HMRC which was and which he knew was or might be untrue or misleading”.

He told HMRC he was entitled to VAT refunds on invoices when he had not fully paid the companies and suppliers who were invoicing him. They were: Gary Lambert Construction Ltd, CAM Architects, TWK Construction, John Maguire & Sons, The Burrell Partnership, Advanced Metalcraft, Read Brothers Ltd. The total he conned from the taxman was £130,000.

Staff was found not guilty on three other charges.

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