On the Naughty Step – guest post

[In a bit of an innovation, we have a guest writer for a naughty step post. My grateful thanks to M for a cracking post….]

You get the distinct impression with some that it’ll take a bit more than being placed on the naughty step for them to see the error of their ways. So it seems with the former landlord Steven Dickens. Dickens, together with his partner Yasminah Jhurry, was found guilty at Knutsford Crown Court at the conclusion of a seven week trial on multiple counts of mortgage fraud whereby £690,000 was illegally obtained. They now face the possibility of a confiscation order and jail sentence.

naughty step badgeDickens built up a large property portfolio to become one of the largest private landlords in North Wales. He operated at the lower end of the market, buying up HMOs and letting them to benefit recipients. Unfortunately, Dickens’ seemingly inexorable rise was funded by dodgy mortgage applications, in which he supplied bogus references, lied about his employment and income, and claimed he would be living in the properties. Dickens even claimed on one application to be selling double glazing when he was actually serving time for violent disorder.

Having, in the words of Judge Stephen Clarke, built his housing empire on “the shifting sands of fraud” one might have thought the budding buy-to-let entrepreneur would have kept his head down and concentrated on quietly paying off the mortgages. But not Dickens. He had his own style of getting things done, which owed more to Rachman than Octavia Hill. He quickly became notorious locally as a landlord who routinely threatened and intimidated his tenants. Local housing agencies became used to a steady flow of tenants complaining of damp flats, exorbitant utility charges, faulty gas appliances, and non-return of deposits. Tenants waiting for Housing Benefit claims to be processed told of how they were threatened with being physically removed from their homes if the rent wasn’t paid come Friday.

Unsurprisingly Dickens became a problem for Conwy County Borough Council, on whom the responsibility often fell for re-housing those fleeing harassment and poor conditions. However few of the victims were willing to confront Dickens in the courts.

But Dickens‘ arrogance was to prove his downfall. First, he had the dubious honour of becoming the first landlord to be the subject of an ASBO for harassment and threatening unlawful eviction. During the trial the court heard evidence Dickens had threatened local authority officers, boasted of knee-capping a man, and offered a housing benefit officer £20,000 for information on former tenants who owed him money. Dickens’ novel response to the ASBO application was to threaten the local housing authority that he would make all his tenants homeless.

Following the ASBO, in an apparent bid to influence the outcome of planning applications for his planned café businesses, Dickens indicated applications might instead be submitted for sex shops. Somewhat bizarrely, we were granted an insight into his thoughts on the judiciary when mannequins appeared in a Dickens’ shop front window dressed in saucy attire and judges wigs (scroll down to 6 Nov “Welsh Wind“). (Ever the diplomat, Dickens struck a conciliatory note. He said he would rather have a coffee shop than a sex shop. The council subsequently approved the planning application for the coffee shop).

Such hilarity was short lived however. Within weeks of the ASBO being handed down, Dickens unlawfully evicted a young single mother, resulting in an eight week stretch. A conviction for breaches of Gas Safety Regulations followed, a rare example of the Health and Safety Executive issuing proceedings against a residential landlord.

While displaying complete disdain for the authorities, Dickens had not figured on North Wales Police conducting a lengthy investigation into his mortgage affairs.

In December 2005 a High Court order appointed a receiver, giving them responsibility for managing Dickens’ properties and business interests. Dickens subsequently placed his properties up for sale by auction, but was denied access to the profits pending the outcome of the mortgage fraud prosecution.

Dickens, Jhurry and Dickens’ mother June (who pleaded guilty to a similar offence on the first day of the trial relating to the family home), shall be sentenced on 2 February. I suspect there will be few of his former tenants with much sympathy for the disgraced wannabe gangster tycoon. Those who were made homeless might be forgiven for hoping he’ll now suffer the same fate.

M.

About Giles Peaker

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts, and still is Nearly Legal on Google +.
Posted in Housing law - All, Unlawful eviction and harassment and tagged , , .

8 Comments

  1. Pingback: Thoughts of Oscar

  2. Pingback: The Landlord Law Blog: The Dickens case

    • I don’t know, but I’d imagine they might be getting a few questions from the lenders and from the Solicitors Regulatory Authority. But the solicitor’s duty to the lender wouldn’t necessarily involve the details of the mortgage application. The mortgage brokers, on the the other hand…

  3. Given the nature and extent of the fraud one would certainly have thought so, but there doesn’t appear to have been any mention in the press about this aspect of the case.

  4. Steven Dickens was jailed today at his sentencing hearing, where he was given 21 months.

    His partner Yasminah Jhurry was given a 140 hour community punishment order. And Dickens’ 70-year-old mother, who the judge accepted was only a ‘bit player’, was given a conditional discharge for two years. However her home is now under threat.

    Confiscation orders are to be considered in August, according to the North Wales Weekly News:

    http://www.northwalesweeklynews.co.uk/conwy-county-news/local-conwy-news/2009/02/02/steven-dickens-jailed-for-21-months-55578-22835961/

    North Wales Police come out of this looking rather good. Without their willingness to investigate and devote considerable resources to building a case Dickens would surely still be causing misery to many at the sharp end of the private rental market in Colwyn Bay, Llandudno and Penmaenmawr.

    DCI Hanson commented: “North Wales Police will continue to support our partners to tackle anti social behaviour”. Just as well really, as it appears one of their major partners needs all the support it can get. The contrast provided by Conwy County Borough Council’s repeated failures to respond adequately to reports of ASB or even understand what remedies they have at their disposal (as detailed in NL’s post today on the latest in a long line of critical Ombudsman reports) could not be more striking.

    Perhaps Conwy CBC should now, in a spirit of post-millennial realism, adapt Blair’s cherished maxim: “Sound tough on crime. Sound tough on the causes of crime. Do sweet FA.”

    Hmm, not sure they’d get it past the scrutiny committee though.

  5. I was unaware when writing the above article that some of Dickens’ mortgages were arranged by Stephen Jones, senior partner of Jones & Poole Independent Mortgage Specialists.

    In September the FSA banned Jones from trading, and imposed a fine of £100,000. The Rhyl-based broker breached regulatory requirements. Jones failed to ensure his customers could afford mortgages and did not keep records of income and expenditure, instead relying on general and undocumented discussions. The regulator stated that Jones, together with his business partner Simon Poole (who escaped a ban but was fined £7,000), exposed 2,000 customers to the risk of receiving unsuitable advice and losing money.

    The fine for Jones was reported to be the second largest fine of its kind. Its size was justified because Jones had fraudulently applied for a mortgage in his own name and attempted to cover up wrongdoing prior to an FSA visit. Jones arranged for customers to sign and backdate documents relating to already completed sales in an attempt to show the necessary documentation was completed.

    Read the story here:

    http://www.dailypost.co.uk/news/north-wales-news/2008/10/01/100-000-fine-for-north-wales-mortgage-broker-55578-21936018/

    A well placed source tells me Dickens’ unsuccessful defence sought to distance him from his frauds by relying on the fact that some of the irregularities on his mortgage applications were very similar to those on other applications arranged by Jones.

    I understand that Dickens’ personal assets now total little more than the £690,000 illegally obtained. The man who once exploited, threatened and intimidated those unfortunate enough to be unable to obtain decent housing is about to be homeless, as the family home is up for sale. But there’s more. The Inland Revenue are demanding £1.3 million, a figure based on Dickens’ own admissions about his income. A bankruptcy petition is due to be heard shortly.

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