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‘He cost me my family’s future’, says victim of Norfolk fraudster Ben Staff

Ben Staff outside King's Lynn Court. Photo: Picture: Ian Burt

Ben Staff outside King's Lynn Court. Photo: Picture: Ian Burt

A victim of policeman turned conman Ben Staff today describes how the fraudster cost him his family’s financial future.

Former Norfolk police officer Ben Staff leaves Norwich Crown Court last year. His wife Catriona Staff, a serving police officer, was cleared of all charges.Former Norfolk police officer Ben Staff leaves Norwich Crown Court last year. His wife Catriona Staff, a serving police officer, was cleared of all charges.

It comes as the 35-year-old former Norfolk police officer begins a four and a half year prison sentence after carrying out a series of frauds across Norfolk’s building trade which totalled £1m.

Staff gave creditors cheques that bounced and fraudulently claimed VAT refunds, Norwich Crown Court heard on Tuesday.

He was convicted of eight fraud-related charges dating from 2009 to 2014 at two previous trials.

One of his victims, Alex Sexton, said his life had been ruined after he invested in one of Staff’s firms.

Mr Sexton was a business partner of Staff and together they built three homes on Waterloo Road in Hainford in 2011.

Mr Sexton said Staff gained his trust when he built the homes on his land.

He then gave Staff £140,000 over several months to invest in a company called Morpheus Homes.

But when he first gave him money in 2012, Morpheus Homes did not exist and he never saw his savings again.

Detective Inspector Liz Fernandes, from Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU), led the investigation into Ben Staff. Photo: ArchantDetective Inspector Liz Fernandes, from Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU), led the investigation into Ben Staff. Photo: Archant

Staff was convicted of fraud and converting criminal property from his dealings with Mr Sexton.

The 67-year-old retiree said the fraud had cost his children and grandchildren their inheritance.

“Before, I was a confident person,” he told Norwich Crown Court on Tuesday. “Having been taken in by Ben Staff, I have lost that confidence and I’m very distrustful of people.”

He added: “Ben Staff has taken from me my retirement future and children’s and grandchildren’s inheritance.

“He has a nice house, car and goes on holiday while I have nothing.”

He said without support from those around him he would have turned to alcohol.

“He has ruined my life and the future of my family,” he added.

Staff’s victims included suppliers and contractors in Norfolk’s building trade, a business partner, as well as the Inland Revenue.

Jailing him, Judge Mark Dennis told Staff: “You were dealing with honest and hardworking individuals who were acting in the same difficult financial climate that you faced.”

He said Staff, of Lucas Court, Thorpe St Andrew, had “continually fobbed people off”. “This was thoroughly dishonest conduct,” he said. “You slipped into a selfish habit of dishonesty which became your default position.”

His frauds first came to light following an investigation by this newspaper in 2013.
Payments relating to his building and development companies went into Staff’s own personal accounts.

Police said some of that money was used to fund a holiday, home renovations, pay for his wedding and lease cars.

Staff’s accounts showed £5,000 was spent on a holiday shortly after a VAT repayment was made.

The 35-year-old traded off the reputation of the police to gain the trust of victims and then used money intended for business accounts to fund his own lavish lifestyle, Norfolk police said.

But Amiot Vollenweider, mitigating for Staff, disputed that he had used the money to fund his own lifestyle.

He also claimed the total value of the fraud offences was far less than £1m and criticised the press for the way Staff had been portrayed.

Mr Vollenweider told the court Staff had started his businesses after leaving the police in 2008 with honest intentions and had “borrowed from Peter to pay Paul” which had led to the frauds.

He said Staff had not tried to defraud people but had been ambitious and over-stretched his finances which had meant he could not pay all his creditors.

“If it had worked out he would have been a rich man, certainly rich enough to ensure everyone got paid,” said Mr Vollenweider.

And he told the judge that as a former police officer being in an “overcrowded prison” would have a “profound effect” on Staff.

But Judge Dennis replied: “A former policeman should have known better.”

Speaking after the court case, Det Insp Liz Fernandes, who led the investigation, said: “It gives closure for the victims that the matter is finally resolved and we can move towards confiscation and trying to compensate something for the victims.”

Staff still has assets, including three properties, and the court heard a Proceeds of Crime Act hearing was likely to take place in May this year.

Staff was also banned from being a director of companies for 10 years.

His wife, Catriona, 33, was charged in both trials but cleared on all counts.

She was a serving Norfolk police officer during the case and faced internal disciplinary procedures after being suspended from duty in 2014 pending the outcome of legal proceedings.

Staff gestured to family members in court that he would call them as he was led down to the cells

Victims’ lives disrupted

The court also heard from two other victims still owed thousands of pounds after carrying out work for Staff.

Martyn Green is owed around £25,000 by Staff for work done to build the houses in Hainford. David Wilson, prosecuting, said: “He was always promised by Staff money would be transferred, only to find he had been let down again.” Speaking after the case, Mr Green said: “I see it as closure but at the same time I don’t feel it [the prison sentence length] was enough.”

Another victim, Gary Lambert, is also owed £25,000, for work he did at Hainford as well as at Frans Green Industrial Estate near Hockering, where Staff was due to build a recycling plant.

“He was in the second year of trading and had to risk his family home to secure his overdraft. It disrupted his life,” said Mr Wilson. “He put all he had worked for at risk.”

•Do you have a story which needs investigating? Email tom.bristow@archant.co.uk

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