Businessman cheated his way to £10,000 Covid-19 grant

·3-min read
Bank notes.  Pic by  Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA...
Bank notes. Pic by Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA...

A FRAUDSTER who used the Covid-19 pandemic to get £10,000 of taxpayers’ money he was not entitled to has been given a suspended prison sentence.

Plumber Adrian Buckley, 56, claimed he was running a gift shop business employing two people and needed public money to meet its costs during the 2020 national lockdown, York Magistrates Court heard.

Within days, his bank account received £10,000 under the emergency Covid-19 business grants scheme.

In reality, his business premises lease had ended, and he had handed back the keys to its landlady three weeks before the lockdown began.

Buckley, of Keld Head Orchard, Kirkbymoorside, pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation on the day he was due to stand trial after 18 months of claiming he was innocent.

Deputy district judge Peter Hayes said because the grant scheme had had to set up in a hurry it was “always going to attract an element of fraud.”

He said of Buckley’s offence: “This is a perfect example of one of those instances.

“It certainly was an offence motivated by personal gain, fraudulent activity at a time when the whole purpose behind this grant system was to assist legitimate businesses that were still in operation.”

He gave Buckley a 20-week prison sentence suspended for 18 months on condition Buckley does 200 hours’ unpaid work. He must also pay the £2,411.90 costs of Ryedale District Council who prosecuted the case and a £122 statutory surcharge.

Emma Jenkins, prosecuting, said Buckley submitted an online application to the council for the grant on March 31, 2020, in which he claimed his business, Merrill’s Gift Shop, was operating from a business address in Hutton-le-Hole on March 11, 2020, employed two people and didn’t have the income to pay its ongoing costs.

He was sent £10,000 by bank transfer on April 3.

But in late March, the landlady of the Hutton-le-Hole address contacted the council to transfer its business rates from Buckley to her. She told the council his business lease had expired, and he had vacated the premises and handed back the keys on February 28.

The council had the £10,000 frozen and contacted Buckley for an explanation about his grant application. He claimed he still had possession of the premises and intended to keep his business going, said Ms Jenkins.

He then ignored repeated messages from the council, and it summonsed him to court. He denied the fraud charge in December 2020 and the case was listed for trial.

All the £10,000 has been returned to the council, the court was told.

Lily Wildman, for Buckley, said the fraud had been “spontaneous” and a “one-off mistake”. He had been a plumber for about 20 years and had planned to use some of the money to meet dilapidation charges relating to the business premises lease.

She said Buckley had told her he was still using the premises in March 2020 with the landlady's agreement.

After the case, the council said its investigation had discovered that Buckley had ceased trading at the Hutton-le-Hole address in January 2020.

Margaret Wallace, the council's director of people and place said: “Ryedale businesses were hit really hard by COVID-19 and are still recovering now. The grant money was provided for those who needed it and at a time they were most struggling.

“This case demonstrates the strong stance we take against anyone trying to take advantage of the system and claiming help fraudulently.”