Suspicious invoice sparked £700k fraud investigation into Age Concern boss

John Briers covers his face outside Newcastle Crown Court.
John Briers covers his face outside Newcastle Crown Court.

A suspicious invoice sparked an investigation into a £700,000 fraud by an Age Concern charity chief, jurors have heard.

Chief Executive John Briers, who at one time earned almost £6,000 per month, is now 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, it is claimed.

The 57-year-old denies 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.

Jurors have heard Briers was suspended from his post when financial manager Graham Cassidy noticed a supporting document, from September 2014, for one of the payments appeared to be fraudulent and an investigation was launched.

On the second day of the case, Mr Cassidy told the court an invoice for £9,500, for work carried out at the organisation's offices caused him concern.

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He told jurors: "The reason it caused me concern, the reason it came so quickly to mind, was the fact the VAT was wrong."

Mr Cassidy said the appearance of the document itself also raised suspicion.

He said: "It didn't feel like a good quality invoice, it didn't feel like a real invoice.

"It looked like something that had been photocopied."

Mr Cassidy said he spoke out about his worries when he was dealing with the invoice in August 2015, which resulted in an investigation.

The court heard a full staff meeting was called at the organisation and all employees were warned to have no contact with Briers, who was on holiday at the time.

Mr Cassidy added: "Mr Briers was being suspended pending investigation."

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: "The defendant is charged with three offences of fraud by abuse of position.

"The position he held was that he was chief executive of a charity, Age Concern South Tyne.

"The case against him is he dishonestly used that position to fraudulently pay to himself large amounts of Age Concern's money.

"He made most of those payments simply by writing out cheques to himself.

"He then covered his tracks by pretending that those fraudulent payments were either payments to companies who had supplied good and services to Age Concern or bonus payments that were approved by the charity's board of trustees or special payments, also agreed by the board, or a sub-committee of the board.

"The defendant created false documents to explain those fraudulent payments.

"In the end, he was caught out because one of the documents he created contained obvious mistakes and the finance manager with the charity noticed.

"In total, he stole over £700,000 from the charity through these means."

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.