Company directors jailed for student fraud

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Two company directors who claimed their organisation was offering training services to bogus learners have been sentenced to 21 months in jail for fraud.

Between August 2011 and February 2013 more than £190,000 was claimed from the training provider, learndirect.

But the two men had set up about 300 “ghost” learners on the computerised learndirect system, and then claimed money for services they did not provide.

The two company directors, Frederick Wilson, 55, of Welham Lane, Great Bowden, near Market Harborough and Philip Hyams, 55, of Teal Drive, Hinckley created Focus Four Limited primarily to offer corporate training.

The company subsequently extended its learning programmes and courses to help people who were attempting to enhance their skill set to in order to find a job.

Wilson and Hyams were sentenced at Leicester Crown Court to 21 months in prison on Wednesday (October 19) after they pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing.

Detective Constable Simon Newcombe from the force’s Economic Crime Unit, said: “This was a complex investigation which initially began in July 2013.

“A joint investigation with the Insolvency Services was launched after learndirect reported suspicious activity and removed all funding from Focus Four Limited.

“The investigation revealed that details of bogus work-place learners were inputted on to the learndirect system claiming that the learners had enrolled and completed learndirect programmes, which was not the case.”

Tutors who worked for Focus Four in offices in Market Harborough, Lutterworth, Blaby and Rugby were forced to pretend they were trainees and complete the training packages, which they did for fear of losing their jobs, said Detective Constable Newcombe.

“Wilson and Hyams were only in it for financial gain and to fund their lavish lifestyles” he said. “They showed total disregard for their staff or the fact that they were falsely claiming money for services they never provided.

“After a thorough investigation we are pleased that they have pleaded guilty to the offences and now face almost two years in prison.

“We hope that this case sends a clear message to those who believe that they can obtain money fraudulently from public funds, you will be traced and prosecuted.”

In sentencing the two men at Leicester Crown Court, Recorder Michael Stephens said the way they had treated their staff was “monstrous”.

A spokesperson from learndirect said: “A routine internal audit of Focus Four identified areas of concern which we investigated and findings were referred to Leicestershire Police.

“As a business with zero tolerance to fraud we believe the right decision has been made to convict the two directors. We hope this acts as a deterrent to others.”