A LONG legal battle involving claims the late Coventry council deputy leader Phil Townshend fraudulently obtained a vulnerable elderly relative’s home has resulted in the property being returned to her in time for Christmas, we can reveal.
A Coventry Observer investigation exclusively revealed two years ago that, before and after his death in October 2015, the Labour councillor faced police and other legal investigations into serious allegations he abused the trust of the frail woman when acquiring her home in 2011 and other assets.
He had been granted ‘power of attorney’ over her financial affairs, which was removed in legal proceedings shortly before his death in favour of a new ‘court deputy’.
We also revealed his legal firm in liquidation, Townshends LLP, still owed up to £600,000 to H.M Revenue and Customs and other creditors years after its insolvency, and his personal £50,000 liabilities to the company remained unpaid. Liquidation proceedings are still ongoing.
We can also today reveal more evidence for the first time resulting from our investigations and documents we have obtained.
A coroner in April last year ruled Mr Townshend, aged 57, died of natural causes at another property, the Allesley village home where he lived, which he had acquired for £499,000 in 2007.
Much of the inquest centred on whether a cocktail of painkilling and antidepressant drugs he had taken, including morphine and extremely high toxic levels of Amitriptyline, were a contributory factor.
After his death, it transpired he was bankrupt. His estate was declared insolvent, with debts owed exceeding assets.
It was despite ownership of the properties, his salary as a solicitor of Townshends and later the Law Partnership Solicitors LLP, £29,000 remuneration from Coventry City Council and around £25,000 for University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) Trust, where he had been chairman.
While West Midlands Police said last year its fraud investigation had ended after his death, private legal proceedings remained ongoing with a view to the relative recovering ownership of her home.
We have chosen not the name the woman, or the address of her Coventry home, because of her vulnerability.
But updated Land Registry documents now show the ownership of her property has been transferred back to her.
The change of registration was published by the Land Registry last week, by order of the Lands Tribunal.
The registration document now also includes a restrictive covenant, which states the house cannot be sold in the lifetime of the owner “unless made pursuant to an order of the court under the Mental health Capacity Act 2005.”
Mr Townshend’s estate was declared insolvent after his death. An insolvency practitioner, also known as a Trustee for the Bankruptcy of the Estate, was appointed to manage the estate’s affairs.
Since then, legal wrangling has been ongoing over the ownership of the home, where the elderly woman continued to live despite the transfer of ownership to Mr Townshend in 2011, which she insists she knew nothing about.
The private court proceedings for her to recover her home, initiated before his death, continued into May last year when an application was lodged with the Land Registry on her behalf by her ‘litigation friend’, a solicitor, using a Statutory Declaration.
The insolvency practitioner for the late Mr Townshend’s estate objected to the elderly relative’s application for re-ownership of her home, pending further investigation of the evidence.
Crucially, the evidence included key independent medical opinion concerning the elderly relative’s mental capacity to know she had not agreed to the sale of her own home, or the alleged gifted deposit.
Transfer of the ownership of the property back to her has been backdated to May last year, when the application was lodged.
The application to the Land Registry alleged Mr Townshend obtained signed blank cheques from her, and blank letters with her signature on them, which he used to fraudulently acquire the property and a mortgage for it, without her knowledge.
One such letter, which we reproduced last year, stated the alleged terms of the transaction – that the £325,000 property be transferred to him, with £200,000 he obtained from a mortgage company on buy-to-let terms, and £125,000 provided from her to him as an alleged ‘gifted deposit’.
Yet we can reveal today the mortgage application on buy-to-let terms signed by Mr Townshend shows he ticked a box stating he did not intend to rent the property to any relative.
This was despite his claim elsewhere that the arrangement was consensual and enabled the frail woman to remain in her home.
We can also reveal precisely half the £200,000 for the mortgage was paid into the elderly relative’s bank account, £30,000 of which was immediately paid back into Mr Townshend’s bank account.
The transfer of the property in 2011 was handled by Townshends LLP acting for her as the ‘seller’, while the ‘buyer’ Mr Townshend was represented by the now liquidated Law Partnership Solicitors LLP, where Abdul Khan was a solicitor. He is now the council’s deputy leader.
The mortgage deed shows signatures in the name of Mr Townshend and Mr Khan, acting as witness.
Later on, Godiva Mortgages sought repossession, and Mr Townshend claimed the house would be vacant, even though his elderly relative was still living there, it is claimed.
Repossession proceedings were halted when the mortgage company became aware of the fraud allegations.
We can also reveal the elderly woman’s un-opened post, including from HMRC, was re-directed, including to one baffled solicitor colleague in 2013. Mr Townshend’s accountants had also written to him to question why he had not kept up with her tax returns over several years.
Mr Townshend was given a funeral and reception at Coventry Cathedral. But later plans to award him a posthumous honorary degree at Warwick University were cancelled following formal complaints.
Mr Townshend’s daughter, Kirstie Logan, has publicly protested his innocence, although other close relatives have taken the opposite view.