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Invoices submitted by South Shields charity boss accused of £700k fraud "didn't look real", jury hears

John Briers
John Briers

An accountant has told jurors invoices submitted by an Age Concern executive accused of a £700,000 fraud "didn't look real".

Chief Executive John Briers, who at one time earned almost £6,000 per month, is on trial facing allegations he paid 60 of the organisation's cheques into his own bank account, awarded himself 12 unauthorised bonuses and 19 additional pension contributions, which he denies.

The 57-year-old has pleaded not guilty to three offences of fraud between January 2007 and August 2015, when he was Chief Executive Officer at Age Concern South Tyneside, based at Beach Road, South Shields, and is being tried by a jury at Newcastle Crown Court.

The court has heard an investigation was launched after a finance officer at the charity noticed a discrepancy in an invoice submitted by Briers.

As a result of the inquiry, the organisation hired a firm of accountants to examine the charity’s finances.

Accountant Maria McKenna was tasked to inspect the accounts, as well as invoices submitted by Briers.

She told the court she had been advised that the invoices may be fake but said she was also able to drawn her own conclusions.

Miss McKenna told jurors: “I think it wasn’t just a case of being told they were fake, in a lot of cases they didn’t look real.

“There were certain things missing, that didn’t look to me like a real invoice should.”

The court heard Briers has said monies were transferred into his account so he could pay companies, hired to provide goods and services to the charity, in cash.

Christopher Rose, defending Briers, asked the accountant about such a scenario in the business world.

Miss McKenna told him: “I wouldn’t expect any supplier to accept that level of cash.

“To find multiple organisations who would accept that level of cash, in my experience, I have never seen it.”

Miss McKenna agreed with Mr Rose’s suggestion that the cash payment system could put a Chief Executive at risk of allegations.

She added: “You certainly wouldn’t put a member of staff in a situation where they were walking around with thousands of pounds.”

Mr Rose said such cash transactions may be something a firm would not want to “advertise” to others.

The court heard investigators found templates of blank invoices for firms the organisation dealt with when Briers' office was searched.

Prosecutor Anthony Dunne told the court Briers had “created “ false documents in a bid to explain the fraudulent payments to himself but was caught out by “obvious mistakes” on them.

The court heard the money was taken from the two limbs of the organisation, one being the charity, which he was Chief Executive of, and the other was the trading company, which he was Secretary of.

Prosecutors claim Briers pocketed £433,236 through fraudulent cheques which he claimed were for suppliers, that he paid himself £105,560 in bonuses, including a special, duplicate monthly salary of £5,756 on one occasion, and that he used £169,703 of the charity's cash to top-up his pension.

Mr Dunne said Briers used fake invoices and even fraudulent minutes of board meetings in a bid to cover his tracks.

Briers, of Woodstock Road, Gateshead, made no comment during police interview.

He later claimed payments were diverted to his account simply so he could pay suppliers in cash.

He denies all charges.

The trial continues.