[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.
Dickens 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.