R v Fitch & Turney (2020)
On 12 June 2020, His Honour Judge Weekes at the Crown Court sitting at Canterbury sentenced two defendants for their parts in a scheme to secure over £2.7m in Government grant aid by submitting false documentation.
Simon Fitch, formerly of International Controlled Atmosphere Ltd, was sentenced for one count of making articles for use in fraud. He acted as project manager for numerous clients who sought to apply for Government funding under the Countryside Productivity Scheme, a fund administered by the Rural Payments Agency at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) intended to assist farmers in developing their businesses. A legitimate application under the Scheme requires three independent quotations from companies who can undertake the work for which the funding is sought, with financial preference given to the most cost-effective quotation. Simon Fitch created two false quotations, in the names of genuine companies, for each application and provided a third quotation from ICA, such that the ICA quotation was always the cheapest, with the intention that ICA would win the contract. In the course of the nine applications which were the subject of the prosecution, he created 18 false quotations to support applications for funding to a total value of £2.7m.
Robin Turney, of Robin Turney Ltd, acted as the applicants’ agent in seven of the nine applications. He was sentenced for knowingly furnishing false or misleading information by supplying the false quotations, contrary to regulation 16 of the Common Agricultural Policy (Control and Enforcement, Cross-Compliance, Scrutiny of Transactions and Appeals) Regulations 2014. He was found guilty after giving evidence at trial and, during sentencing, the judge found that he had known that the quotations were false and had lied to the jury.
The starting point for Simon Fitch’s sentence was found to be five and a half years’ imprisonment, which was reduced to two years and suspended, with a curfew condition, in light of exceptional mitigation.
Robin Turney was sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment, also suspended for two years, with a curfew condition. He must pay over £96,000 in costs and compensation and he was disqualified from being a company director for two years.
The case is understood to be the first occasion on which there has been a prosecution under regulation 16 of the 2014 Regulations. The offence requires that the accused knowingly or recklessly furnished false or misleading information and does not require an intention to commit or participate in a fraud.
James Thacker and William Dean prosecuted the case at a three-week trial in January 2020 and at the sentencing hearing on 11 and 12 June 2020. They were instructed by Gurminder Sanghera at the Serious Fraud Division of the Crown Prosecution Service.