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TONY HETHERINGTON: At last, FCA looks into drug dealing boss

Jun 4, 2022

Tony Hetherington is Financial Mail on Sunday's ace investigator, fighting readers corners, revealing the truth that lies behind closed doors and winning victories for those who have been left out-of-pocket. Find out how to contact him below. 

Prison: We revealed the jail term law firm boss James Scotney served

Prison: We revealed the jail term law firm boss James Scotney served

We're watch you 1  

Last week, The Mail on Sunday revealed that Town Country Law Ltd of Lincoln, which is fully authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority as a credit broker, is controlled by James Scotney, who has a prison record for dealing in Class A drugs. 

Four previous directors of the company are awaiting trial on fraud-related charges. They include Robynne Casswell. Yet the FCA's public register advised anyone with a complaint against the business to contact her. 

Scotney denied that Casswell has any current connection to his company, but confirmed that 'we are regulated by the FCA for any financial services, and I am the approved person' – meaning he has been vetted by the watchdog and given its blessing as 'fit and proper' to run the business, which also offers funeral plans and prepares legal documents such as wills. 

The FCA was offered the evidence in advance if it wished to comment. The watchdog demanded the evidence, but refused to say whether it would comment, so it only saw the report when it was published last Sunday. 

I reported then that we would give space today for the FCA to comment, and to say whether it was aware of Scotney's record. Anyone seeking approval to play a major role in an authorised firm has to supply details of any convictions, and the FCA – which has 4,000 people on its staff – has access to criminal records to carry out checks. 

I also asked the FCA why it told complainants to contact Robynne Casswell if, as Scotney told me, she is no longer at Town Country Law. Did the FCA not know she had left? Did it not know that she faces charges linked to the firm? 

Last Wednesday, the FCA admitted it was wrong to name Casswell. 

It told me: 'The firm did update its complaints details last year and a system error on our side meant that the details were not changed. This has been corrected and we are looking into what happened.' 

But the watchdog refused to discuss whether Scotney concealed his drug-dealing conviction to win FCA approval, or alternatively whether he declared it but the FCA judged him fit and proper anyway. An official explained that it is a firm's responsibility to use the Government's Disclosure and Barring Service and then confirm that an applicant has a clean record. But since Scotney runs the company, this is like asking him to mark his own homework. 

The most the FCA would say was: 'We are looking again at the circumstances surrounding the disclosure of Scotney's conviction.'

We're watching you 2

Two South London men who raked in £37million from 2,000 investors who thought their savings were going into an ethical scheme to plant trees have been convicted of conspiracy to defraud. The verdicts came on Tuesday at Southwark Crown Court, and Andrew Skeene and his business partner Junie Bowers will be sentenced at a later date. 

The pair launched Global Forestry Investments in 2009, advertising a return of 12 per cent a year from growing teak trees in Brazil. They claimed their plantations would generate sustainable forestry and support local communities. I found then that Skeene was already behind a dodgy scheme promising a guaranteed 30 per cent yield from property developments in Dubai, and I warned it was unlicensed, unregulated and unsafe. 

I advised anyone considering the forestry scheme not to be fooled by an ethical label. Bowers hit back with fake messages on financial websites, alleging I provided illegal share tips and was myself under investigation for fraud. 

In 2014, the teak tree scheme collapsed and Skeene and Bowers were declared bankrupt, though investigators from the Insolvency Service found that over £13million intended for plantations had ended up in their own bank accounts. In 2015, the Serious Fraud Office announced an investigation and in 2019 the two men were charged with fraud. 

After the trial, SFO chief Lisa Osofsky said: 'Our international investigation exposed an intricate web of money transfers, forged documents and invented identities used to scam pensioners and savers out of their money under the false pretence of environmental protection.'

Dad split his will fairly, but brother says £100,000 in savings are all his 

N.M. writes: My father's will says that his estate should be divided between his five children. 

However, before he died he added my brother's name to his savings account, which holds more than £100,000. 

My brother says he can keep it all. Is this correct, as I believe this was not my father's intention? 

Tony Hetherington replies: You have told me that your father added your brother's name to the account as a matter of convenience. Your father had difficulties walking, and English was his second language, so it was understandable that he would trust one of his adult children to have access to his money so he could be sure that bills were paid. 

But I am afraid I have bad news for you. Your brother is almost certainly right, and can keep the £100,000-plus that was in your father's account when he died. 

The basic rule is that when one signatory to a joint account dies, whatever is in the account then belongs to the remaining signatory. 

It does not matter what the deceased's will says, because any jointly held bank or building society account immediately passes to the surviving account holder, and all they need do is produce the death certificate to have the account put in their sole name. 

There is an exception to this rule. If your father and your brother agreed that ownership of the cash stayed with your father, or that it was divided in a particular way, then you would have grounds for insisting that your brother is wrong to pocket the lot. But you would need evidence, such as a letter or trust deed signed by them both.

In fact, the executors of your father's will may find that they face their own problems. Even though your brother says all the £100,000-plus is automatically his, the taxman may still regard it as part of your father's estate for tax purposes. If your father's estate is big enough to be liable for inheritance tax, the executors may be asked by the taxman to prove who provided the money in the account. 

If your father provided it all, and your brother provided none, then the whole of the account is likely to be taxable. 

Joint accounts in a family are convenient and sensible, if they are based on trust and honesty. However, I am afraid they can backfire in exactly the way you have found.

If you believe you are the victim of financial wrongdoing, write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS or email tony.hetherington@mailonsunday.co.uk. Because of the high volume of enquiries, personal replies cannot be given. Please send only copies of original documents, which we regret cannot be returned. 

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