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Offshore accounts trawled in murder enquiry

Service Area: Criminal and Regulatory, Fraud

Member: Roger Isaacs

Detectives investigating the suspected murder of a vulnerable woman in Scotland have turned to the Isle of Man’s Financial Intelligence Unit (IoM FIU) in a bid to find her.

Carers for Margaret Fleming, who was last seen alive between December 1999 and January 2000, claimed that Margaret was involved in organised crime in Romania.

However, benefits officials who visited her home to look into a new payment claim in 2017 were suspicious and asked the FIU to search for aliases to see if she was still alive.

Margaret lived with so-called ‘carers’ Edward Cairney, 77, and Avril Jones, 59, who claimed benefits for the woman.

According to them, Margaret, who had learning difficulties, had vanished from the home she shared with them in October 2016 but when interviewed, they became evasive.

However, when detectives interviewed other people, it became apparent that no one had seen her since 1999.

Despite her absence, Margaret’s benefits continued to be paid into a bank account in the name of Avril Jones.

This led the detectives to contact the IoM FIU, along with police forces across the UK, health boards, banks and other financial institutions to see if there was any trace of her existence.

However, over the 17 years there was no evidence to show that she was alive and investigators found that the couple had received up to £182,000 in benefits during this time.

Despite finding no evidence that the pair had physically harmed Margaret in the past, the High Court in Glasgow found the duo guilty of murder and they were jailed for a minimum of 14 years in July 2019. Jones was also convicted of fraudulently claiming £182,000 in benefits by pretending to be Ms Fleming.

The pair was ultimately brought down by their “greed, arrogance and lies” the Courts found, with Jones making claims of “fantastical” illnesses and conditions to deceive benefits officials.

Since the sentencing, the Crown has sought to recover £182,000 in benefits which were paid in Margaret’s absence via the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (POCA).

Jones’ advocate John McElroy has told the court that his client has offered to settle the case against her but the Crown had not accepted the offer. A court hearing is due to take place later this year to settle the POCA matters.

Roger Isaacs, Forensic Partner at Milsted Langdon, said: “This is a heinous crime that saw two individuals prey on and ultimately kill a vulnerable victim for financial gain.

“It is relatively unusual for someone to be convicted of murder based on evidence with such a bias towards financial documentation and in the absence of a body or murder weapon.

“The POCA proceedings will consider not only the benefit that the defendants obtained from their crimes but also the extent to which they have assets available to meet any claim. Such assets can include so-called “hidden assets” the existence of which can be imputed by the court even if their whereabouts remains unknown. Typically forensic accountancy evidence plays a vital part in determining the eventual outcome.”

Author: Roger Isaacs
6 January 2020

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