You may have seen this case of property fraud reported widely in the media recently. Here’s how Land Registry staff helped to bring about the convictions:
As a lawyer in Land Registry my involvement with this case began in spring 2009.
A colleague approached me and asked what I thought about an application lodged by a bank which stated they had paid a large sum of money to a customer’s solicitor for a property purchase but their customer was not shown as the registered owner of that property. The bank was seeking protection of their interest while they investigated the matter.
In considering the application, I became concerned that this was an unusual situation and the value of the loan was worryingly high. Alarm bells really started ringing a few days later when the same colleague saw a similar application from the same bank but relating to a different property. At this point we both worked together to get to the bottom of the problem and over the next couple of months received applications from other lenders of a similar nature.
At the same time as our investigations were going on, we were approached by Thames Valley Police who had been contacted by various lenders and wished to inspect our files. We subsequently found out that Mark Entwistle, the pilot referred to in all the current press articles, and his various companies held a very large property portfolio subject to numerous mortgage applications, transfers of part, transfers and leases. The great majority of the applications for registration of these transactions had been lodged by the same solicitor, Jonathan Gilbert of Willmetts.
The investigations required hundreds of files to be trawled through to identify what transactions had taken place, the date of the transaction, the date the application for registration was made and other matters.
When it got to the court case there were so many complex frauds involved that the Crown Prosecution Service and police took the view that the prosecution should concentrate on only a small number of properties.
As part of the process I was required to provide numerous detailed statements recording all the transactions which were evidenced in our files. It was a painstaking task as everything I said had to be backed up with evidence that could be picked over by the defence.
The trial at Southwark Crown Court, the usual court for major fraud trials, eventually took place in January 2014. The prosecution counsel took the view that the jury should be taken through each property separately, so I was repeatedly called to give evidence. In the end I attended court on five separate occasions over a six month period.
After five years of work, the final verdicts of the jury came as a great relief. The main defendants, Mark Entwistle (the pilot) and Jonathan Gilbert (the solicitor from Willmetts) both received substantial prison sentences of 14 and 12 years respectively. A mortgage broker who was involved received a 5 year prison sentence and an accountant 3 years. A great deal of time and effort has been put into this case and this started just because a member of our staff became suspicious. As a result we haven’t had to pay any substantial claims for indemnity. Willmetts Solicitors however, didn’t fare so well as this one fraudster brought the whole firm down.
See how you can minimise the risk of becoming a victim of property fraud by following our property fraud advice