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Anger as victims of Norfolk policeman turned fraudster Ben Staff still owed thousands of pounds

PUBLISHED: 08:11 07 December 2016 | UPDATED: 13:04 07 December 2016

Ben Staff leaves Norwich Crown Court on charges of fraud, with his wife who has been cleared. Photo: Archant.

Ben Staff leaves Norwich Crown Court on charges of fraud, with his wife who has been cleared. Photo: Archant.

copyright 2014: Rob Colman Tel: 07905093569. No Syndication.

The victims of a £1m conman today describe how the former Norfolk police officer almost ruined a new business and led to some of the hardest days of their lives.

Ben Staff outside King's Lynn Court. Photo: Picture: Ian BurtBen Staff outside King's Lynn Court. Photo: Picture: Ian Burt

It comes as police said they were aware of new complaints made about fraudster Ben Staff this year.

Staff, a policeman with Norfolk Constabulary from 2001 to 2008, was convicted of fraud on Monday following two trials at King’s Lynn and Norwich crown courts.

The 35-year old was found guilty of eight charges totalling more than £1m in frauds and cons, while his wife, Catriona Staff, 33, who is a serving Norfolk Police officer, was cleared in the two trials.

Staff, of Lucas Court in Thorpe St Andrew, left a string of unpaid debts in Norfolk’s building trade, putting suppliers and a business partner thousands of pounds out of pocket.

Detective Inspector Liz Fernandes, from Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU), led the investigation into Ben Staff. Photo: ArchantDetective Inspector Liz Fernandes, from Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU), led the investigation into Ben Staff. Photo: Archant

Police are expected to try to seize some of Staff’s assets next year to get money back for his many victims.

But those owed money by him hold out little hope of getting their cash back years later.

One man defrauded by Staff of £140,000 thought he was going into business with the policeman turned property developer.

Alex Sexton, from Norwich, gave Staff the money for what he thought was an investment in one of Staff’s company’s called Morpheus Homes.

“When I did ask where my money was he came up with very plausible reasons,” the 67-year old said.

Staff gained Mr Sexton’s trust when he built three homes on land inherited by Mr Sexton at Waterloo Road in Hainford in 2011.

In 2012 Mr Sexton then gave Staff £140,000 which he thought was an investment.

In return he said Staff agreed to build him a home at cost price which he could either sell, rent or live in.

Ben Staff leaving Norwich magistrates court in 2008. Photo: Archant.Ben Staff leaving Norwich magistrates court in 2008. Photo: Archant.

Instead he has lost what he hoped would become an inheritance for his two children and grandchildren.

Mr Sexton said Staff even took him to land in Norwich where he said his home could be built and showed him architect’s drawings of a three-bedroom bungalow which the grandfather was hoping to live in.

He got to the stage of starting to redraw the plans for the house.

But there was no property and at the time Mr Sexton transferred the first £85,000 to Staff in May 2012, there was no Morpheus Homes either. That company was not set up until later that year.

“He convinced me to invest,” Mr Sexton said. “I knew and trusted him. He was very friendly and matey.”

By early 2014, Mr Sexton, who used to work in the engineering trade, suspected something was wrong.

He described the following year as some of the worst days of his life.

“I’ve had quite a few life experiences but that was the worst,” he said.

“It will take a long time before I trust anybody I haven’t known for years.”

And he said he was doubtful of getting his money back even if police launch confiscation proceedings against Staff.

But he said there was some satisfaction in seeing the conman found guilty of the fraud against him.

The former policeman also owed tens of thousands of pounds to suppliers whom he brought in to build the homes at Hainford.

Martyn Green, who runs Grab Lorry and Digger hire in Lenwade, was hired by Staff to clear the site and provide the aggregate for the houses.

Five years later, he said he is still owed around £29,000.

“He always made promises he was going to pay. He would have you waiting up looking at your account and seeing if money had gone in. That went on for months.”

Mr Green said he had to get a loan to see him through after doing the work for Staff.

“He is nothing but a fraudster,” he added.

Gary Lambert, from Gary Lambert Construction Ltd, said he is still owed around £25,000 from Staff for work also done at Hainford as well as at Frans Green Industrial Estate near Hockering where Staff was due to build a recycling plant.

It was only the second year of Mr Lambert’s business when he dug the foundations for the projects.

“The work coming in was really good,” he said. “But it nearly put me into bankruptcy.”

“I had to pay for the concrete and materials. I had to pay my bills.

I didn’t want to get a name for myself.”

He said he then chased Staff for the money but only received a small amount.

“I was going round his house and knocking on his door,” he said.

Detective Inspector Liz Fernandes, who led the investigation, said: “I would like to thank the victims for their patience and help during the investigation and I hope the jury’s decision will help them move forward with their lives.

“I would also like to thank the team of police officers who have worked tirelessly and professionally throughout this investigation.”

Staff will be sentenced at Norwich Crown Court on January 3.

Christmas in jail

Ben Staff now faces time in prison when he is sentenced in January, but it will not be his first time behind bars.

He spent last Christmas in jail for breaching a court order by selling a van.

Staff had been ordered to preserve his assets ahead of the fraud trial, due to the possibility of a confiscation order being made.

But Staff sold a van without notifying the Crown Prosecution Service, and then used the proceeds to pay a plasterer.

He also used the money for mortgage payments.

Staff admitted the breach at a hearing at Norwich Crown Court on December 22 last year.

Judge Stephen Holt sentenced him to 21 days in prison, but this could not be reported at the time due to legal reasons as he had a trial coming up in February at King’s Lynn Crown Court.

Staff’s first trial there and second trial at Norwich could also not be reported on because of reporting restrictions.

Those restrictions were lifted after Staff was convicted on Monday at his second trial.

‘Outrageous chain of events’

The detective who led the investigation into Ben Staff said the frauds he committed were an “outrageous chain of events”.

Staff partly took his victims in by using his police background to convince them he was trustworthy.

Detective Inspector Liz Fernandes, from the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit, said the police investigation was “long and complex”.

Staff’s frauds, however, were relatively simple. He did not pay people whom he owed money.

Police began looking at Staff in 2012, but Det Insp Fernandes said it took a long time to get to court and trial.

She said Staff was opening lots of different bank accounts and setting up new companies which all needed to be investigated by police.

They also contacted anyone they believed had been defrauded by Staff and used an EDP investigation from 2013 into Staff’s businesses to help.

“He is as you would describe a fraudster to be,” she said. “People believed everything he told them.”

•Frauds and conning the taxman - the charges Staff was found guilty of

Ben Staff was found guilty of eight allegations following a trial at King’s Lynn Crown Court in March and a second trial at Norwich Crown Court which ended on Monday. They are:

•Count 1: fraudulent trading

From September 2011 to July 2012 Staff defrauded the creditors of his company Mr Trades of £198,070.

•Count 2: fraud

From September 2011 to July 2012 Staff was guilty of fraud by making “false representations to various creditors”, by writing 56 cheques on behalf of Mr Trades totalling £340,711 which bounced.

•Count 3: false accounting

From September 2010 to October 2012 Staff “dishonestly” falsified the company accounts of Mr Trades.

•Count 4: false accounting

Between July 2009 and January 2014 he again “dishonestly” falsified the accounts of a another of his company’s SES (East Anglia) Ltd.

•Count 5: fraud

From April 2012 to September 2012 Staff committed fraud against Alex Sexton by telling him that £140,000 belonging to Mr Sexton would be invested in a company called Morpheus Homes Ltd when at the time of the bulk of the investment, it did not exist. Money was paid through the personal bank accounts of Ben and his wife Catriona Staff.

•Count 6: converting criminal property

From April 2012 to September 2012 Staff converted criminal property namely, £140,000 from Mr Sexton “knowing or suspecting it to represent in whole or part and whether directly or indirectly, the proceeds of criminal conduct”.

•Count 7: converting criminal property

From July 2009 to September 2014 he converted criminal property, namely £653,000 due to his own companies. Those companies included Staff Energy Services Ltd, Staff Electrical Services Ltd, Mr Trades Limited, Morpheus Homes, SES (East Anglia) Limited, Norfolk Metal and Waste Recycling Ltd.

•Count 8: fraud

From November 2011 to July 2014, Staff committed fraud by making a “false representation to HMRC which was and which he knew was or might be untrue or misleading”.

He told HMRC he was entitled to VAT refunds on invoices when he had not fully paid the companies and suppliers who were invoicing him. They were: Gary Lambert Construction Ltd, CAM Architects, TWK Construction, John Maguire & Sons, The Burrell Partnership, Advanced Metalcraft, Read Brothers Ltd. The total he conned from the taxman was £130,000.

Staff was found not guilty on three other charges.

•Do you have a story which needs investigating? Email tom.bristow@archant.co.uk or call 0160377 2834.

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