UK police forces continue to suffer under the severely adverse consequences of the British government’s fiscal “austerity” measures. The cuts have been deep and have seen big reductions in police numbers. Police chiefs up and down the country have been forced to disband specialized policing units, including many of their fraud squads.
The fraud squad officers are highly specialized. In most cases they are long-in-the-tooth detectives, who have chosen to specialize in the investigation of fraud. These officers have to be trained to deal with fraud matters. Some are also accredited financial investigators who are authorised to stand before a judge and make an application for a production order.
These skills are expensive to acquire. Re-forming these specialist units will take years to achieve, given that the requisite experience and skill to conduct fraud investigations effectively can only be acquired over several years of work.
The net result of disbanding fraud squads is that victims are being turned away from the police stations, simply because the forces concerned don’t have the money and capacity to invest to resolve what can be a complex and time-consuming investigation. This is precisely where a company director called Vincent Tickel found himself in 2016, when the virtual police station door shut in his face.
Mr. Tickel had uncovered a long-running fraud perpetrated by his company accountant, aptly named Lawless. The fraudster in question, Gerard Lawless, had systematically taken £1.5 million ($1.9 million) from the company over an 11-year period. He used the money for lavish holidays, shopping trips and for tickets to watch the Irish rugby team.
To rub salt into the wounds, he even used the company credit card to pay for the champagne at his son’s wedding, a celebration attended by Mr. Tickel who had no idea that the drink he, his fellow directors and other company employees were enjoying was effectively being paid for by his company.
Having identified the fraud but being refused further support by the police when he tried to initiate an investigation, Mr. Tickel had to resort to a private criminal prosecution, which resulted in Mr. Lawless being jailed for seven-and-a-half years.
There are two questions arising from this scenario. First, why did it take 11 years for the company to identify a £1.5 million loss? And second, why are the police turning Mr. Tickel away when he has nearly all the necessary evidence to hand, which should have made their investigative process straightforward?
The lawyer representing Mr. Tickel, Tamlyn Edmonds, summed up the situation when she said:
It is shocking to think that Gerard Lawless almost got away with stealing £1.5m because the police did not investigate this case. This lack of investigation, which is a common occurrence, is why so much financial fraud goes completely unpunished. It is only because the victim pursued a private prosecution that justice has been served.
The judge sensibly and fairly ordered that the state bear the cost of the private prosecution.
Unsurprisingly, the police force in question, Hertfordshire Constabulary, aware that its reputation had been tarnished by a lack of action, launched an investigation into the matter. It is to be hoped that they and other forces realize that fraud is a serious crime and has a seriously adverse impact on victims. It is not an offense suitable for brushing under the proverbial carpet.
With thanks to Tony McClements, Senior Investigator at Martin Kenney & Co, for his assistance with this post.
Martin Kenney, pictured above, is Managing Partner of Martin Kenney & Co., Solicitors, a specialist investigative and asset recovery practice based in the BVI, focused on multi-jurisdictional fraud and grand corruption cases www.martinkenney.com |@MKSolicitors. In 2014 he was the recipient of the ACFE’s highest honour: the Cressey Award for life-time achievement in the detection and deterrence of fraud. He was selected as one of the Top Thought Leaders of the Legal Profession in 2018 by Who’s Who Legal International, as the number one offshore lawyer for asset recovery in 2017 and 2018, and selected as a Global Elite Thought Leader for 2019 by Who’s Who Legal.