Merseyside property boss forged cladding safety forms to feed gambling addiction

Thomas Clarke made £6,000 from the fraudulently completed documents which certified their buildings were not potential fire risks. Credit: PA Images

A property manager who submitted fake building cladding safety forms to feed his gambling addiction has walked free from court.

Thomas Clarke, 33, fraudulently completed the documents which certified their buildings were not potential fire risks.

Residents in high-rise flats received the 'forged' forms, which were introduced in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire which killed 72 people in 2017.

Clarke, from Rainhill, Merseyside, signed off a total of 55 EWS1 (External Wall System) forms in the name of an ex-colleague without her knowledge, netting himself £6,000.

He received a 15-month custodial term, suspended for two years, after pleading guilty last month to fraud by false representation.

Sentencing him at Liverpool Crown Court, Recorder Andrew McLoughlin said: “The only reason you do not go to prison is that none of these forms were factually incorrect, so therefore the residents of these properties can at least be reassured.”

All were rechecked to ensure they were compliant over fire risks, the court heard, but the judge said Clarke had shown “disdain” to those living in high-rise buildings.

He said: “It is a very important document because it gives confidence to the occupiers of those properties about the external wall systems.”

What is an EWS1 form?

External Wall Fire review forms (EWS1 forms) were introduced following the Grenfell fire disaster, to prove to lenders that cladding on residential buildings is safe.

The forms require an appropriate professional to confirm the checks have been completed.

Without a signed EWS1 form, home-owners cannot sell as their properties are valued at ‘zero.’

Stuart Mills, prosecuting, said surveyor Sophie Magee, a former colleague of the defendant, received several phone calls in June 2020 over the authenticity of EWS1 forms purportedly signed by her.

Ms Magee “knew absolutely nothing” about the forms and later contacted police, he said.

She later became concerned when Clarke began contacting her, and on one occasion she fled her home in fear for several days when another ex-colleague visited on the defendant’s behalf.

The prosecutor said Clarke was “outsourced” to complete the forms by Paul Tedstone, chief technical officer at Specialist Facade Inspections (SFI), because at the time it did not have anyone appropriately qualified to sign them off.

Clarke explained his membership of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors was “on hold” but he knew an ex-colleague who could help out.

The defendant went on to create a false email address in the name of Ms Magee, the court was told.

In her victim personal statement, Ms Magee said she suffered “significant stress” as a result of Clarke’s lies and had worked hard to build her reputation in the market.

Recorder McLoughlin told the defendant he had involved a "completely innocent member of the public" who had an "unblemished" 18-year career.

He said: “Because of underlying circumstances, a gambling addiction, you found yourself in this proverbial hole, spending more than you were actually earning, and you were in a very well-paid job.

"This was a sustained fraud with a significant degree of planning."

Michael O’Brien, defending, said: “He made the wrong decision at each and every turn. He offers no excuses for his behaviour.”

Clarke, of Second Avenue, who had no previous convictions, must also complete 200 hours of unpaid work and 15 hours of rehabilitative activity.

He was issued with a five-year restraining order preventing contact with Ms Magee.

Following sentencing, Detective Chief Inspector Steve Ball, of Merseyside Police, said: “The Grenfell Tower tragedy brought about a Government and industry-wide response to fire safety, central to which was the EWS1, designed to record and assess any fire safety concerns in a consistent and universal manner.

“For Clarke to see this important safety work as an opportunity to fraudulently make money is disgraceful.

“The potential consequences of people and companies bypassing this process could be catastrophic, and we would encourage anyone requiring EWS1 forms to check the signatory on a form with the profession’s institution, to ensure all parties are satisfied that the properties are safe.”

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