On 2 July 2015 Newcastle upon Tyne Crown Court heard that Trevor Bartlett, the Managing Director of Blue Sea Food Company of Paignton, Devon pleaded guilty to five offences of making a false or untrue application for a European Fisheries Fund (EFF) grant. Kevin Moore, a Director of Western Industrial Limited of Ashburton, Devon pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting Mr Bartlett to do so by supplying him with false documents on four separate occasions.
Regulation 5(5) of the Grants for Fishing and Aquaculture Industries Regulations 2007 makes it an offence for a person to give information in an application for a grant which they know to be false or do not believe it to be true. The defendants offered guilty pleas to these offences as an alternative to charges brought under the Fraud Act 2006.
On 5 January 2011 Trevor Bartlett made an application to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) for funding under the EFF in the sum of £179,000. As part of the application he supplied three quotes which he certified as being independently sourced in accordance with the application process. In fact two of the quotes were false and had been created by Mr Bartlett. Kevin Moore’s firm was the preferred supplier in relation to this application and was given the contract. The grant in the sum of just over £169,000 was paid out after the work was completed prior to the MMO investigation revealing what had occurred.
Trevor Bartlett also admitted that he had knowingly sent false documents as part of four further applications for grant funding between May 2012 and July 2013. The false documents were all in the form of supporting quotes which had been supplied to him by Kevin Moore, his preferred supplier.
Kevin Moore admitted that on each of these four occasions he was Trevor Bartlett’s preferred supplier and he had agreed with Mr Bartlett to create and supply false supporting quotes to stand alongside his own quote for Mr Bartlett to send to the MMO. When questioned by MMO officers, Mr Moore accepted that normally he would expect an applicant to approach two other companies for independent quotes for such projects and he had never worked like this in 25 years.
Only one of these four grant applications was processed and paid out in the sum of £75,287. The other three applications were suspended by the MMO pending the result of the investigation.
It was accepted in Court by the MMO that there was no evidence in any of the applications that Mr Moore had inflated his quote or that the money paid out in funding to Mr Bartlett was not used on the projects for which the application for funding was made.
On behalf of Trevor Bartlett the Court received several personal character references and was told of his various charitable works. Neither defendant had any previous convictions.
In sentencing, his Honour Judge Bindloss accepted that the EFF grant process was based to a large extent on trust and that the two supporting quotes provide a measure of assurance to the MMO that the preferred supplier quote represents good value for public money. He said that the MMO could not be expected to check each quote submitted to ensure all quotes were genuine and was entitled to rely on the declaration made by an applicant on every application form that the information supplied was true.
The Judge considered that in all the circumstances the level of harm caused by the defendants’ behaviour was relatively low but that their culpability was high as this was a deliberate deception by both of them designed to “cut through the system”. In addition the offences were repeated over a 2 year period. In Trevor Bartlett’s case he had declared on each of the five applications that the information submitted was true knowing it was not. The Judge felt that to an extent Mr Moore had been pressured into providing the false quotes.
The Court gave the defendants maximum credit for their pleas. Trevor Bartlett was fined a total of £2,800 plus £8,750 in costs and Kevin Moore was fined £2,000 plus £4,375 costs. No order for compensation was made.