2nd Dec, 2016

Warwick University delays award for late councillor Phil Townshend amid 'fraud' inquiries

Les Reid 13th Jul, 2016 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

WARWICK University has postponed the award of a posthumous degree to the late Coventry council deputy leader Phil Townshend amid ongoing inquiries and revelations concerning allegations he defrauded a vulnerable elderly woman.

The Coventry Observer, some of Mr Townshend’s relations, and members of the public have in the last week raised questions with the university over its decision to award an Honorary Doctor of Laws at a ceremony on July 23 for the former politician, University Hospital chair and lawyer’s services to Coventry.

The Coventry Observer exclusively revealed last November that, before and since his death at his Allesley Village home in October last year, he faced police and other legal investigations into allegations he abused the trust of a sick and elderly woman when acquiring her home in 2011 and other assets, when he had ‘powers of attorney’ over her financial affairs. We also revealed those powers of attorney had been removed with a new ‘court deputy’ for the alleged victim assigned before his death.

We also revealed his firm in liquidation, Townshends LLP, still owed more than £300,000 to H.M Revenue and Customs and other creditors years after its insolvency, and his personal liabilities to the company of £50,000 remained unpaid. Liquidation inquiries and proceedings continue.

While police said earlier this year their fraud investigation had ended, legal inquiries are still ongoing with a view to the alleged victim recovering her property.

The BBC last month reported it had found the allegations raised by the Coventry Observer were serious. Last Friday, the BBC website reported more allegations and moves to enable the alleged victim to recover ownership of her home, where she still lives.

The Coventry Observer has learned one senior family member raised concerns, on behalf of others, with the university including about the impact of the scheduled degree award while legal issues remain ongoing, noting the impact on the frail ‘elderly victim’.

This newspaper and members of the public since last week had challenged the university as to whether the award could bring it into disrepute and cause further hurt to the alleged victim, given the advanced stage of ongoing legal matters into the serious allegations.

The university responded today by saying: “The University was contacted by the family on Monday to ask if we were willing and able to postpone the ceremony until our next set of degree congregations, which will take place in January. We have agreed to the family’s request.”

A coroner in April ruled Mr Townshend, aged 57, died of natural causes. 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.

As the BBC reported last week, an application has been lodged with the Land Registry on the alleged elderly victim’s behalf for her home to be returned to her, using a statutory declaration, which follows court proceedings.

The application alleges Mr Townshend obtained signed blank cheques from his victim, and blank letters with her signature on them, which he used to fraudulently acquired the property and a mortgage for it, without her knowledge.

One such letter (which we reproduce here) states the alleged terms of the transaction – that the £325,000 property be transferred to him for £200,000, which he obtained from a mortgage company on buy-to-let terms, with £125,000 provided from her to him as a ‘gifted deposit’.

UPDATE (Thurs, July 14):  A document published by Kirstie Logan on Twitter, daughter of Phil Townshend, appears to show she emailed the university and Coventry City Council’s head of PR in the run-up to the postponement of the university’s award, days after challenges to the university from the Coventry Observer and others.

Ms Logan has contacted us stating that she wrote to the university to request a postponement of the degree award. This is in addition to another email to the university from another more senior family member who also expressed concern over the impact on the ‘elderly victim’ given ongoing legal matters and publicity on it (as reported above), which the Coventry Observer has obtained.

A screenshot of the document she published on Twitter, which she also tweeted to us, appears to show Ms Logan’s email to the university requesting a postponement on the grounds of stress placed on her and other family members from publicity of the ongoing legal matters.

The dates on this document appear to show it was written after days of emailed challenges throughout last week to the university by the Coventry Observer and a member of the public which we have also obtained, in addition to further objections to the university by others this week now in our possession.

Ms Logan’s document also appears to show emailed communication last Friday – the same day the BBC published its revelations – between Ms Logan and Coventry City Council assistant director of communications, Fran Collingham, under the title ‘Press crisis’, and a later approach to another media outlet on Monday (as pictured, Fran Collingham’s name can be seen beneath the partial black marks).