Four defendants made inflated claims and submitted false invoices to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and its predecessor, the Marine Fisheries Agency (MFA), to obtain monies under two grant schemes, Portsmouth Crown Court heard today (3 September 2014).
The offences related to three dishonest applications under the European Fisheries Fund (EFF) and the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG). The schemes aimed to support a sustainable future for the UK fishing industry.
The offences were picked up by the MMO during routine checks to tackle fraud.
Michael Burge, 48, of Cosham Refrigeration Ltd. pleaded guilty to two counts of false accounting under the Theft Act for supplying false invoices, one to Ian Bickerstaff of West Quay Fisheries and one to William Brock of Brighton and Newhaven Fish Sales. He received a 10 month suspended sentence and was ordered to perform 120 hours of unpaid work.
As a result of using the false invoice supplied to him, Brock, 49, received almost £30,000 that he was not entitled to, and kept the money. He pleaded guilty to an offence under the Fraud Act, and received a nine month suspended sentence and was ordered to perform 120 hours unpaid work.
Both Ian Bickerstaff, 60, and David Henman, 65, of West Quay Fisheries, pleaded guilty to two counts of false accounting for supplying false invoices to the MMO and its predecessor agency, the MFA.
Bickerstaff received a suspended sentence of eight months, and was ordered to perform 120 hours of unpaid work. Henman received a seven month suspended sentence and he will also be subject to a curfew order (8am-8pm) for two months.
Brock was ordered to pay compensation of £28,782.34, and told the court he would pay the whole of the grant money given (£59,804.09 in total). Bickerstaff was ordered to pay £11,667.18.
All four defendants were ordered to make a contribution to prosecutions costs, amounting to £46,612.80.
Andy Newlands, Principal Marine Officer at the MMO, said: “We take any attempt to defraud grant schemes very seriously as this is taxpayers’ money. Any attempt to falsely claim funding is potentially depriving others of the opportunity to access these funds.
“We appreciate that the vast majority of applications are made honestly but we can, and will, take action if false or inflated claims are made for grant funding.
“We undertake thorough checks of grant applications to detect any discrepancies, as the grant schemes are hugely important to helping fishermen and related businesses continue to secure a sustainable future for our fishing industry.”