10th Dec, 2016

Late Coventry council deputy leader Phil Townshend faced OAP fraud probe amid £300k tax debt

Les Reid 5th Nov, 2015 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

EXCLUSIVE INVESTIGATION

EX-COVENTRY council deputy leader Phil Townshend died last month while being investigated for allegedly defrauding a vulnerable elderly woman, an Observer investigation can exclusively reveal.

The frail 78-year-old alleged victim – who we have declined to name to protect her identity – had entrusted him to control her financial affairs solely for her purposes, not his own benefit, as her attorney.

It is understood the ill woman suffered a further health setback earlier this year amid ongoing investigations.

The matters were referred to West Midlands police fraud officers months ago and investigations remain ongoing.

The 57-year-old Labour politician and lawyer’s tragic sudden death three weeks ago also came amid the ongoing liquidation of his former solicitors’ practice, Townshends LLP, which the Observer revealed in April faced claims of up to £650,000 in unpaid tax bills, and money to other creditors.

We have learned none of the debts has been paid off – nearly five years after the company’s insolvency and almost three years after it entered compulsory liquidation.

A public civic funeral takes place at Coventry Cathedral on Monday (November 9) at 3pm, when the council told the Observer that city taxpayers will foot a £7,500 bill for a large reception of the great and good, family and friends – and an additional £700 to help the cathedral’s funeral costs.

A Coventry City Council statement in response to our enquiries states the taxpayer bill is “necessary” for a “significant public funeral” to recognise “councillor Townshend’s significant contribution to Coventry…(and) the deep affection with which he was held by so many communities locally, nationally and internationally.”

An initial Post Mortem examination was inconclusive and has triggered a coroner’s investigation and further pathologist tests into the cause of Coun Townshend’s death. While it remains unconfirmed, some sources anticipate the outcome will establish he died of natural causes.

Councillors have been told Coun Townshend’s body was found at his Allesley Village home on October 15 this year by council leader Ann Lucas and leading Labour colleague, councillor Ed Ruane, after they had obtained the keys to his home after reports he had been mysteriously unobtainable.

Coun Townshend’s absence through illness was unusually noted publicly by the Lord Mayor at a full council meeting two days before.

The revelations concerning the elderly woman come as some politicians and dignitaries have eulogised over Coun Townshend’s work for vulnerable people and charitable causes, and his dedication as a councillor.

The Observer understands the allegations had also been reported to the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

The police worked closely with Coun Townshend on community safety and other policy areas he had responsibility for as a Coventry City Council cabinet member.

Investigations are ongoing with a view to recovering any assets or funds allegedly improperly removed from the alleged victim.

The allegations centre on the use of property, including an alleged sale of her BMW car and her longstanding home near Coventry, where she still lives.

The Observer has obtained Land Registry documents which show Coun Townshend purchased the house in 2011 on a £325,000 mortgage.

It is understood the investigations involve six-figure sums.

A new court deputy has been appointed this year to take charge of the alleged victim’s property and affairs.

Court deputies and attorneys can be appointed to make decisions on someone’s behalf before or when the donor lacks the ‘mental capacity’ to make decisions for themselves – from paying bills to organising pensions – often through brain injury or illness.

It is understood the alleged victim sometimes lacked capacity to make certain decisions.

Coun Townshend was also an ex-chairman of University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW) NHS Trust.

TAXPAYER STILL OWED OVER £300K

THE taxpayer remains more than £300,000 out of pocket from the liquidation of Phil Townshend’s former solicitors firm, the Observer can reveal.

We have learned none of the money owed to HM Revenue and Customs and other creditors has been paid back throughout the liquidation.

Investigations by the liquidator are continuing despite Coun Townshend’s death.

We revealed in April this year his firm in liquidation was facing HM Revenue and Customs claims totaling £650,000.

The Labour councillor and lawyer also still personally owed nearly £50,000 to his former city centre-based law firm, Townshends LLP.

The company has been in compulsory liquidation for nearly three years amid ongoing investigations, after previous attempts to settle bills to creditors via a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) failed.

Coun Townshend transferred in April 2012 to The Law Partnership Solicitors LLP, where he set up with fellow Labour councillor and lawyer Abdul Khan.

As we also reported in December last year, a tribunal found Coun Townshend’s new firm was paying below the statutory minimum wage to one worker.

It was despite Coun Townshend’s pledge when he came to power in a leadership coup with council leader Ann Lucas to end the scourge of the minimum wage – replacing it within 100 days with a higher ‘Living Wage’ for the lowest paid council workers.

A new company – called The Law Partnership (Coventry) Ltd – was incorporated in July this year at the same Foleshill Road address. Documents with Companies House show Phil Townshend’s directorship was terminated this September.

The latest report on Townshends LLP to creditors – filed with Companies House this February by liquidator Matt Hardy of Birmingham-based Poppleton & Appleby – showed the total value of claims made by “Crown creditors” then stood at £657,831 – almost double the amount the previous year.

It also stated unsecured creditors had made other claims totaling £30,436.

Agreement is now expected that HM Revenue and Customs will reduce its claims back to around the previous year’s reported figure of £364,000 – following further investigation of actual historic tax returns.

A spokesman for Poppleton & Appleby told us this week: “We can confirm no payments have been made to any creditors in the liquidation at this stage.

“The liquidation is still ongoing regardless of developments.

“There are still potential assets within the liquidation that we continue to investigate and attempt to collect in.

“Whilst we are hopeful that there might eventually be a distribution to creditors, the largest of which is HM Revenue and Customs, any distribution will be insufficient to pay creditors in full.”

The liquidator’s next public report is due in the new year.

The latest report in February also stated Coun Townshend had pledged to repay £10,000 a month over the following five months to settle an overdrawn capital account still owed by him personally to the company in liquidation.

Speaking in 2012 about the company’s insolvency, Coun Townshend said his intention was to repay the debts to the taxpayer in full.

He also said three years ago his own personal tax bills were up-to-date and paid in full.

The intention under the CVA had previously been to pay back a minimum £4,000 for the first six months, then at least £6,000 per month for three years.

The tax bill included unpaid National Insurance and PAYE (tax free allowance) payments.

Coun Townshend claimed tax bills had gone unpaid for a year before the company’s insolvency, after problems he attributed to the recession especially with conveyancing work, and closure of the firm’s Birmingham office.