The prosecution of fraudulent agent Timothy Shinners was brought privately because police declined to investigate, it is claimed.
Shinners is now serving three years, as reported by EYE on Friday, and has been disqualified as a director for eight years, solely as a result of the perseverance of one man, a fellow director, who uncovered the frauds after joining the agency.
At sales and lettings agency Platinum Properties in Bolton, Shinners failed to comply with tenancy deposit law, and stole money over a period of six years. Altogether he caused losses to the company of £100,000.
When new director Stephen Laycock uncovered the frauds, he reported the matter to Greater Manchester Police.
He claims that police declined to investigate, citing the Government’s austerity measures.
The force told Laycock in a letter: “The police service has felt the brunt of the Government’s austerity measures” and as a result of the force centralising its fraud investigation capabilities, “there are fewer police officers investigating reports of fraud at a time when the volume of fraud is increasing significantly”.
“In summary we have to make difficult decisions and sometimes these decisions are not satisfactory to the victim”.
An incensed Laycock asked his MP to help, but says that the intervention was to no avail other than to register it as a complaint.
After feeling let down by police inaction “and left with the sense that crime does pay”, Laycock, the now sole director of Fuseon (trading as Platinum Properties), instructed a specialist prosecution firm, Edmonds Marshall McMahon.
Following months of investigation, the R (Fuseon Ltd) v Timothy Shinners private prosecution was brought, with a three-week trial at Preston Crown Court.
The estimated cost of bringing the private prosecution was £450,000. It may be able to reclaim costs against a central fund, we understand.
In court, Shinners was accused of:
- Failing to comply with the statutory requirement to register tenant deposits with an approved tenancy deposit protection scheme.
- Charging to the company items of personal expenditure to which he was not entitled, including accommodation for himself, cars, payments to family members, telephones, outstanding debt liabilities, foreign currency transactions and other items.
- Stealing cash from the company.
- Adapting a maintenance invoice to inflate the value of work completed at a property.
- Fraudulently adapting tenancy deposit protection documents to disguise irregularities.
On July 7, the jury in the case returned guilty verdicts on charges 1, 2, 4 and 5.
The court heard that “time and time again”, Shinners had knowingly received deposits into the business and failed to transfer them to the Deposit Protection Scheme account.
Laycock, who joined Platinum Properties in 2014, injected cash into the business, enabling the deposits to be registered and protected. This was described as an “act of decency” by the Judge. Accounts at Companies House indicate that the full injection was at least £200,000.
The court also heard that Shinners forged a number of documents to conceal his tracks.
Evidence was also produced showing that Shinners had drawn at least £76,352 of company money, above his permitted salary and expenses.
Treating the company as his own personal bank account, this money went on items including holidays, meals out and Shinners’ own stag weekend.
The court also heard that, unknown to his co-directors, Shinners rented a Platinum Property home for the use of himself and his family, using company funds to pick up the bill for over three years.
He kept the landlord in the dark about who the true tenants of the property were. A tenancy agreement in the name of his wife and father-in-law was created, and Shinners continued to represent to the landlord that he was the managing agent; this deception was maintained even after he had resigned from the company.
In one communication to the landlord, who at the time was demanding outstanding rent, Shinners informed him that he was preparing eviction notices to serve on the ‘tenant’ as a last resort.
Shinners was also accused of falsifying a maintenance invoice in relation to the property he was living in, to avoid having to reimburse the landlord.
Laycock said: “The decision to proceed with the private prosecution was taken as a last resort and was not an easy one.
“The charges represented only a small amount of the losses I have incurred as a result of Mr Shinners.
“The advice and direction from EMM was excellent – from focusing only on a small number of relatively high value charges, to their recommendation of forensic accountants, barrister and trial strategy.
“The process is significantly different to civil proceedings, completely led by the solicitors and the legal team, who are sometimes not able to discuss issues so as not to influence a witness, such as myself. Confidence in the team is therefore essential and with Edmonds Marshall McMahon no stone was left unturned.”
Matthew Edwards, senior associate at EMM, said: “Stephen Laycock came to Edmonds Marshall McMahon due to our expertise in conducting private prosecutions.
“Conducting a large-scale investigation of this type has been a significant and challenging task, and we therefore welcome the comments of the trial judge who noted that proceedings had been brought with great diligence and skill.
“This has been a difficult journey for Mr Laycock, who has invested a significant amount of his own money and time in ensuring Mr Shinners is brought to justice.
“We hope that the decision of the jury will help to finally put this difficult chapter behind Mr Laycock.”
As EYE reported on Friday, Shinners went on to work for online agent YOPA after leaving Platinum Properties. He was “let go” at the end of last year.
We have since learned that he was pitching for a field sales management role with at least one prominent online agent. He was also in job discussions with a second, also prominent, online firm.
The assets of Platinum Property were sold to Northwood in Bolton.
On Friday, managing director Eric Walker told EYE: “Following the problems Platinum faced, we did indeed acquire the assets of the business.
“The process was subject to strict due diligence and each and every file was checked thoroughly by our auditor and our Head of Legal.
“I am sure that every landlord and tenant will be relieved that the assets have been acquired by our local franchise which is a member of NALS, SAFEagent and TPOS.
“As part of Belvoir plc, the largest property franchise group in the UK, we have impeccable standards in terms of compliance and financial accountability. Our franchisee, Steve Adams has a decade of experience and owns both the Wigan and Bolton offices supported by his established and highly experienced team.”
The Deposit Protection Service on Friday said it would not be commenting.
EYE has invited Greater Manchester Police to comment.