College targeted in £475k fraud

A college was conned out of nearly half-a-million pounds of taxpayers’ cash.

Castle College, which has sites in Maid Marian Way, Nottingham, and in Beeston, paid a training company £475,391 in the belief that people had taken training courses, the Nottingham Post reports.

The college organises courses for people who are employed but want to get extra training, using government funding. But it was billed for courses that people had not taken.

The college merged with South Nottingham College earlier this year.

One of the fraudsters was Kay Edwards, a full-time administrator at Castle College, who secretly provided Birkenhead-based Training Options UK Ltd (TOUK), which has a base in Mansfield, with details of hundreds of people who had previously undertaken courses at Castle College.

Nottingham Crown Court heard their details were used by her co-conspirators to complete false work books, assessments and feedback forms. False claims were put in for funding for those people and paid.

In one case, TOUK billed Castle College for 717 students for a customer service course when only 134 actually did the training.

A second college, North Warwickshire and Hinckley, was also conned out of £27,108 when it, along with Castle College, was invoiced by the company for 399 students on two health and safety courses that never took place.

The “guiding lights” behind the fraud were said by the prosecution to be directors Andrew Leathwood and Carolanne Ravenscroft, who ran TOUK and another company, FE Options Ltd, and general manager Kieran England. Leathwood and Ravenscroft were alleged to have profited to the tune of more than £100,000 each.

Edwards (45), of Heathery Drive, Forest Town, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud Castle College.

Leathwood (43), of Waterpark Road, Birkenhead; Ravenscroft (56), of Yowley Road, Ewloe, Deeside, Clywd; and England (37), of Vermont Road, Liverpool, were found guilty of conspiring to defraud Castle College of £475,391 and conspiring to defraud North Warwickshire and Hinckley College of £27,108.

England was also found guilty of making or supplying articles for use in frauds. This related to a number of false workbooks, knowing that they were designed or adapted for use in the course of or in connection with fraud.

Husband and wife Leslie Hayes (44) and Claire Hayes (38) of Burnt Oaks Close, Mansfield Woodhouse, who manned the Mansfield office of TOUK, admitted conspiracy to defraud Castle College and North Warwickshire and Hinckley

Damion Johnstone (39), of Mossdale Drive, Rainhill, Merseyside, who was paid to complete fraudulent claim forms, pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud Castle College only

Steven Johnson (39) of Strathmore Drive, Liverpool, admitted making or supplying articles for use in frauds.

All will be sentenced on January 3, 2012.

A spokesman for South Nottingham College said: “The case dates back to before our merger with Castle College. We believe this to be an isolated individual action and in no way representative of the college. We do not think it is appropriate to comment further at this time.”