College scam fraudster spared jail

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A ST Helens man was among eight people sentenced for fraud last week after more than £500,000 was claimed from two colleges for training that did not take place.

Damion Johnstone, 39, of Rainhill, received a 12-month jail sentence - suspended for a year - 250 hours of community service and a three-month curfew following a meticulous three-year police probe.

Nottingham Crown Court heard how documents were forged by staff at Training Options UK Ltd and FE Options Ltd to pretend that students had completed courses at Nottingham’s Castle College and North Warwickshire and Hinckley College.

Castle College, which has since merged with South Nottingham College, paid out £475,391 for 583 students who, it was told, had taken customer services or health and safety courses.

North Warwickshire and Hinckley College paid £27,108 for 249 students it was led to believe had completed an occupational health and safety course.

In fact, none of the students had completed either course.

Johnstone, of Mossdale Drive, Rainhill, pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud Castle College after police discovered that he had pocketed £21,650 over and above his basic wage between December 2007 and February 2008.

A meticulous investigation by fraud teams included examining more than 30 bank accounts and hundreds of e-mails.

It culminated in warrants being executed at six addresses in April 2010 – including four on Merseyside.

Fraud squad detective constable Nick Lowe said: “This was an incredibly lengthy and complex investigation into a well-planned and organised fraud. We will now use the Proceeds of Crime Act to ensure that those sentenced do not benefit further from their criminality.”