The Daily Mail got into the Easter spirit this year with a story they released on Saturday 20th April 2014. Apparently people who may not actually be starving are using food banks and sometimes getting food without begging for it. And, what is worse, some of these people were foreign.
There was an undercover sting, of sorts, as one of their reporters, Ross Slater “GOT 3 DAYS OF GROCERIES… NO QUESTIONS ASKED”. Surprisingly for the Daily Mail, this is not quite correct. Mr Slater didn’t get the food (which included such luxuries as :creamed rice pudding, cost –15p; new potatoes in water, cost – 15p; processed peas, cost – 21p and kidney beans, cost 25p;) ‘no questions asked’.
As the story makes clear, there were plenty of questions asked (name, address, phone number, purpose of visit and a “series of questions about why the food bank vouchers were needed” which Mr Slater did not answer truthfully . The food was, therefore, obtained by Mr Slater because of the lies told by him.
Is this fraud? Intuitively, telling lies in order to get something sounds pretty fraudulent? The relevant statute is ‘Fraud by False Representation’ contrary to s2 Fraud Act 2006, which reads (in part) as follows:
Fraud by false representation
(1) A person is in breach of this section if he—
(a) dishonestly makes a false representation, and
(b) intends, by making the representation—
(i) to make a gain for himself or another, or
(ii) to cause loss to another or to expose another to a risk of loss.
(2) A representation is false if—
(a) it is untrue or misleading, and
(b) the person making it knows that it is, or might be, untrue or misleading.
Lying about his name and personal circumstances is clearly a false representation.
But is there a gain – the food got given back?
Mr Slater gave the food back at a later stage it seems. Is that enough to stop it from being fraud? Under s5(2)(b) Fraud Act, ‘gain’ and ‘loss’ : “include[s] any such gain or loss whether temporary or permanent“.
For this reason, even if the property was later restored, this would not stop there being a ‘gain’ or ‘loss’ for the purpose of the Fraud Act. It may have an impact on the last issue, that of dishonesty, however.
Is this dishonest?
Certainly many people would think so, at least in the colloquial sense. The legal test for dishonesty is often called the ‘Ghosh test’, coming from the case of R v Ghosh  EWCA Crim 2.
There is a two stage test :
(i) “a jury must first of all decide whether according to the ordinary standards of reasonable and honest people what was done was dishonest”. If no, then there is no dishonesty. If yes, then
(ii) “the jury must consider whether the defendant himself must have realised that what he was doing was by those standards dishonest … it is dishonest for a defendant to act in a way which he knows ordinary people consider to be dishonest, even if he asserts or genuinely believes that he is morally justified in acting as he did”.
Ultimately, this would be a question for a jury (or magistrates, if the case stayed in the Magistrates’ Court). It is clear that if Mr Slater thought that he was acting in the public interest by exposing a generosity of spirit in his fellow countrymen, then that would not be a defence if he must have realised that other people would think it was dishonest.
So, is the Daily Mail employing fraudsters and encouraging their reporters to commit fraud? That would be a matter for you, as representative of the reasonable man and woman, to decide.