Law finally catches up with former policeman turned conman Ben Staff
PUBLISHED: 14:44 06 December 2016 | UPDATED: 08:18 07 December 2016
The full details of a £1m fraud carried out by a disgraced former police officer can today be revealed for the first time.
Timeline of the case
2008: Ben Staff leaves Norfolk police and sets up his first firm, Staff Electrical Services.
2010: Norfolk Trading Standards receive complaint about Staff. The case is not taken further because evidence did not show he had breached trading standard laws.
2012: Norfolk Police receive complaint about Staff.
May 2013: The EDP publishes investigation into Staff’s business practices.
February 2014: Staff and wife Catriona arrested.
November 2014: Staff charged with multiple counts of fraud. Mrs Staff charged with money laundering.
March 2016: Staff found guilty of six charges including fraud. Mrs Staff cleared.
December 2016: Staff found guilty of fraud in a second trial. Mrs Staff cleared.
Police constable turned conman Ben Staff, who was a PC for Norfolk Constabulary between 2001 and 2008, defrauded his victims over several years through his building and property development firms.
Staff, from Lucas Court, in Thorpe St Andrew, traded off the reputation of the police to set up business deals and gain the trust of his victims.
But he used money meant for business accounts to pay for his own luxurious lifestyle, including buying a BMW and Audi A6, going on holidays, renovating his home and paying for his wedding. It meant there was little money left to pay his suppliers and creditors. Staff also conned the taxman out of £130,000.
Detective Inspector Liz Fernandes, who led the investigation, described Staff as “nothing but a conman who manipulated his victims... for financial gain”.
His victims first began complaining about him in 2010, with a report to Norfolk Trading Standards.
But it has taken authorities six years from then to get to the stage of convicting him.
And we can now reveal the full details of the 35-year-old electrician’s frauds from two trials this year.
A ban on the press reporting his first trial in March was lifted yesterday following his conviction on Monday at a second trial for fraud and converting criminal property.
In 2013, this newspaper published an investigation into Staff’s business practices following a series of complaints we received about him.
We found firms were chasing one of his companies for £70,000 in unpaid bills.
That reinvigorated a police probe into Staff, which had begun in 2012, with new witnesses coming forward. In February 2014, he was arrested along with his wife, serving Norfolk police officer Catriona Staff.
Mrs Staff, 33, was suspended from the force after her arrest.
She has now been cleared in court of converting criminal property following the two trials this year but faces a police disciplinary process.
Her husband was found guilty at a trial at King’s Lynn Crown Court in February and March of two counts of fraud, two counts of false accounting, one count of converting criminal property and one count of fraudulent trading through his businesses which included Mr Trades Ltd, SES East Anglia and Morpheus Homes.
He was found not guilty on three other charges and the jury did not reach a decision on another two.
At a second trial at Norwich Crown Court, which finished on Monday, he was found guilty of another fraud of £140,000 and converting criminal property.
The second trial heard a man called Alex Sexton gave Staff £140,000 to invest in a company called Morpheus Homes. Mr Sexton said Staff gained his trust when he built homes on land belonging to Mr Sexton on Waterloo Road in Hainford.
He said he gave Staff the £140,000 over several weeks to invest in Morpheus Homes in 2012 and had never seen a return of the investment. The money was initially put into Mrs Staff’s bank account and she stood trial for a second time alongside her husband where she was found not guilty.
Staff, who pleaded not guilty throughout the trials, will now be sentenced in January for the frauds.
He declined to comment yesterday.
Deputy Chief Constable Nick Dean said: “These are very serious offences that Ben Staff has been convicted of.
“The fact that, as a former officer, he traded on the reputation of the police is absolutely unforgivable.
“I want to take this opportunity to underline to the public that the Constabulary will pursue criminality wherever it exists and will robustly investigate allegations of criminal conduct against an individual whatever their background.
“This includes investigating thoroughly those who have previously worked for the constabulary, where the evidence demands it, as this case clearly demonstrates.”
•Wilkins Micawber and the £1m fraud trial
Following a five-week trial at King’s Lynn Crown Court, Staff was found guilty of six of the 11 counts he faced, not guilty on three, with the jury undecided on two of the charges.
His wife, Catriona Staff, who stood trial alongside her husband on two counts, was found not guilty of one count of converting criminal property, while the jury could not reach a verdict on a second count of converting criminal property.
He defrauded creditors of one of his companies, called Mr Trades Ltd, of £198,000.
Staff was also found guilty of a second count of fraud by writing 56 cheques in 2011-12 for money totalling £340,000 when not enough money was in bank accounts to pay them.
The electrician was also guilty of converting criminal property by putting business money totalling £653,000 into personal accounts.
David Wilson, prosecuting, said that between November 2011 and July 2014, Staff continued to claim VAT refunds on paid invoices when, in fact, the payments had not been paid at all.
During the trial, Staff’s manner was described as being similar to Wilkins Micawber – a fictional character from David Copperfield by Charles Dickens.
In the novel, the character asserted the faith that ‘something would turn up’.
But ultimately it didn’t work out for Staff, whose defence included blaming the professionals instructed – such as accountants and solicitors.
Cash flow problems and clerical errors were also among the reasons cited in Staff’s defence.
But Mr Wilson said: “Mr Staff, time and time again you feel sorry for yourself and are blaming everyone else – but you put yourself into this situation.”
•The second trial: a £140,000 fraud
Staff went on trial on Norwich Crown Court at the end of November on two charges the jury in his first trial were unable to reach a decision on.
He was charged with defrauding a man called Alex Sexton of £140,000 and then converting criminal property by passing that money through different bank accounts.
Staff pleaded not guilty to both counts.
The money went through bank accounts of Staff and his wife. Mrs Staff was cleared of one charge of converting criminal property.
Both charges were linked to a company called Morpheus Homes which Staff set up in August 2012.
The prosecution said Staff asked Mr Sexton to invest money into that company before it was even set up.
In total, Mr Sexton gave Staff £140,000 in 2012, which he said he thought was an investment in Morpheus Homes.
But the money was instead used to pay for Staff’s debts.
The prosection said it was also used for holidays and home renovations.
However, the defence said Staff was not given time to come good on Mr Sexton’s investment because he was arrested in 2014.
They argued Mr Sexton knew the money was going to pay off Staff’s debts. But David Wilson, prosecuting, said Mr Sexton was misled. “Mr Sexton felt that Mr Staff had gained his trust. He appeared to have an answer for everything.”
•Do you have a story which needs investigating? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01603 772834