A PURFLEET couple were among a family of housing cheats jailed in a landmark case where the judge delivered the verdict after accusations of jury tampering arose.
Riccardo Guthrie, 33, and sister Cosima Guthrie, 25, both of Purfleet, Essex,were jailed for three years and 18 months respectively, while second sister Bianca Guthrie, 35, of Chingford, received a two year jail term reports Inside Housing.
A fourth defendant, Courtney Campbell, 48, of south London, received a 12 month suspended sentence and was ordered to carry out 160 hours of unpaid work.
A fifth defendant, Vanessa Williams, 40, from Barnet, was cleared of any wrongdoing in a verdict delivered by the jury before they were discharged by the judge.
The quartet, who were sentenced at Wood Green Crown Court on 14 July for conspiracy to defraud, were accused of illegally claiming around £112,000 in housing benefit and council tax from Barnet Council.
Evidence showed how they used the cash to finance mortgage payments on three homes in Barnet, one in Ealing and one in Waltham Forest. Unwitting tenants were moved into the homes to generate further money.
They were caught after a five year investigation by police and Barnet Council’s legal department and Corporate Anti-Fraud Team.
The four were sentenced after the judge, Miss Recorder Caroline English, made legal history by delivering the verdicts without a jury after dismissing them on March 16 amid accusations of tampering.
It was the first time it ever happened in a case in England and Wales where a jury has been discharged during a trial.
Richard Cornelius, leader of Barnet Council, said: ‘This was a systematic and highly organised attack on the benefit system to cheat the taxpayer out of more than £100,000.
‘Barnet Council is committed to making sure any fraud is punished and I think that is illustrated by the way we have pursued this case.
‘During these difficult economic times it’s utterly wrong that these individuals should use public money to finance the purchase of a string of properties in Barnet and across London.’
Barnet Council has commenced confiscation proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act.