MBE conman jailed

A former police worker who conned his way into being awarded an MBE has been sentenced to 18 months in prison. Michael Eke forged nomination papers to acquire his honour and obtained £66,000 by defrauding charity funds.

A former police worker who conned his way into being awarded an MBE has been sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Michael Eke - who forged nomination papers to acquire his honour and obtained £66,000 by defrauding charity funds - completed his fall from grace at Norwich Crown Court where he was described as a Walter Mitty character who began to believe his own publicity.

The 38-year-old police employee and prominent member of the community in March, Cambridgeshire, admitted 14 charges involving fraud, dishonesty and theft. He has since returned his MBE medal with a letter of apology.

Prosecutor Sam Mainds told the court this was the first time a cabinet office had been deceived in such a way. He added: “This is an extraordinary case with an extraordinary defendant who over four years obtained thousands of pounds through sophisticated deceptions practised on a variety of victims who, in at least two cases, the average conman would not have dared go near.”

He will serve an 18 month prison sentence for offences including:

t Forging an MBE nomination form signed by two made-up characters before being awarded his gong by the Queen during a birthday honours ceremony in June 2003.

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t Pocketing thousands of pounds in lottery grants, claiming cash would pay for shows and events for young people in his home town.

t Spearheading a fundraising drive to replace musical instruments stolen from the March Air Training Corps, where he was a squadron leader, but keeping thousands of pounds in insurance payouts and donations for himself.

t Lying about previous employment and obtaining a false reference in order to get a civilian job in Cambridgeshire police's post room. He then sold computers, cameras and other electrical goods he stole from his employer.

The offences only came to light when the RAF sent an investigator to March after an ATC volunteer raised discrepancies in the accounts.

Speaking after the case, townspeople expressed their dismay at the sentence. Town clerk Clive Lemmon said: “The sentence is quite honestly appalling. For the shame he's bought upon the community of March and for the amount of money he stole, five years would have been better.

“I think people will be distressed to learn that the court was so lenient. I am very disappointed with the sentence and I imagine many others will be too.”

The ATC said in a statement: “We take this matter very seriously. Flt Lt Eke was suspended for the duration of the case and the ATC will now be considering the implications of the conviction on Flt Lt Eke's continued service with the Corps."

Police believe the gain from his offences may have run higher than the £66,000 quoted in court because many of the transactions involved cash which cannot be traced. But his most extravagant purchase was an £8,020 Mitsubishi car imported from Japan and he led an outwardly normal life at his modest suburban home in March.

Defending barrister Guy Ayers told the court: “The fact that he was praised for his charity work may explain the predicament. The higher a person is raised up, the further they have to fall. Because of the nature and character of the man he started to believe in his own publicity.”

Mr Ayers added that as a result of the case the awards system had come under “some scrutiny” with “question marks” over the process.

Judge Paul Downes said that although Eke had gained employment using deception he had carried out his duties sufficiently to justify his salary. Because this salary formed part of the prosecution's figures, he said he would sentence him on the basis he had stolen £33,000.

He added: “Your application for your honour, which in the end was your application, was a quite wrong way to go about it and a criminal way to go about it. Had you not descended to quite ridiculous lengths the way you did, you would probably have deserved your MBE.

“You were prepared to adopt any device that came to hand, whether using somebody else's name, or forging a document. It seems you quite simply decided you could do what you liked.”

Outside court investigating officer Det Con Mark Cross described the case as unique. “I have never before come across a case like this. It is the first case we know of in which someone has fraudulently gained an honour from the Queen using fraudulent means,” he said.

“There were hundreds of offences and this was a fraud on a very large scale. It is difficult to trace exactly how much money he obtained or how he spent it.”

A later hearing will decide how much compensation Eke should pay.