Is the Mail on Sunday guilty of fraud?

Photo for Daily Mail article

Photo from Daily Mail article

Introduction 

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 [1982] 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.

 

 

Conclusion

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.

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20 thoughts on “Is the Mail on Sunday guilty of fraud?

  1. Carol (@bilbocroft)

    Isn’t any ‘dishonesty’ likely to be covered/excused by the journalist’s claim of public interest?

    Reply
    1. Peter

      Is there not a clear Public Interest case for an exemplary prosecution of Ross Slater? Unless well publicised enforcement action is taken against him for the aspects of the investigation that involved a breach of Criminal Law then it will encourage others to abuse charities in this way. Is it acceptable to commit crimes and then claim that you did it simply to prove that crimes can be committed?

      Reply
  2. Andrew

    The Mail is what it is: you don’t blame a skunk for stinking.

    Since they banned fish and chips in newspapers (alas) it has had only one use: but you can get a better product from the supermarket in several pastel shades.

    Reply
  3. polruan

    What on earth were you doing reading the Daily Hate Wail in the first place, Dan (and let’s not have any excuses about going to the hairdresser’s!)?

    Reply
  4. Andrew

    Anyone else remember Round the Horne and Kenneth Horne’s explanations for why he was reading the unlikely publication in which Julian and Sandy were advertising their latest venture?

    “I was leafing through my copy of the Cornish Whippet-Breeders’ Gazette – I buy it for the crossword puzzles . . .”

    I have to say that the DM has very good Sudokus.

    Reply
  5. Liberte, Egalite, Sororite

    I looked at it another way. I thought The Mail was trying to demonstrate to its readers that they too could emulate the behaviour of MP’s and peers by fraudulently claiming for things, in this case food rather than expenses, that they were not entitled to with little or not repercussions. Why else would they have done this?

    Reply
    1. Andrew

      L-E-S Several peers and Honourable Members have been the guests of the taxpayer in another sense!

      Reply
  6. Andy

    What seems clear here Is the paper has proved exactly they set out to do because if their reporter can obtain food by telling lies then so can anyone else.
    Good reporting if as me..

    Reply
  7. patrickhadley

    I hope that the food bank makes a complaint to the police. There seems to be sufficient evidence for a prosecution, but I fear that a jury will contain enough Daily Mail readers to nullify a deserved guilty verdict.

    Reply
  8. Andy

    You need to be careful. It was actually the Mail on Sunday, not the Daily Mail, which stung the food bank. Hate you to be hit with a libel writ…

    Also worth mentioning that Slater took up the valuable time of the referring agency, Nottingham CAB. Time which may have been needed by someone in genuine distress and which can’t be given back.

    Reply
  9. Andy

    We all seem to be missing the point here how much of the valuable time and food are those who are as the reporter did getting food by lying about their need for such support?
    How other than this type of investigative reporting would this type of deception be uncovered??

    Reply
    1. Andy

      No, you’re missing the point that this stunt tells us nothing about the prevalence of such abuse, just that it is theoretically possible. I mean, big surprise there.

      When managing services such as this you have to strike a balance between a reasonable level of checks and making it too difficult for people in desperate situations applying. The Victorian Era fetishists would love to see the bar raised so high that nobody can access assistance and that is the agenda behind MoS’ cruel con-trick.

      Reply
  10. Peter S

    The Trust issued a report to try and frame the political debate about the increase in use of food banks due to government austerity. The Mail on Sunday article looked at whether this rise was caused more by lax procedures for given access or genuine increase in need. Clearly public interest due to the trust entering the public debate so think talk of fraud would be dismissed but interesting how people don’t like their preferred narrative of rise in need being challenged.

    Reply
  11. Liberte, Egalitie, Sororite

    This Tory government and its coalition partner want to suggest that Britain isn’t starving and that we’ve never had it so good. Which is what The Mail was trying to suggest whereas the reality on the ground is different. This was in no way challenged by what their reporter did. As we know some people will try to exploit any system, for example, MP’s who fiddled their expenses. That does not mean that some expenses claims were not genuine. Same applies to foodbanks and the people who rely on them to eat and to feed their families.

    Reply
      1. polruan

        What’s even more worrying for me is to find myself agreeing with Andrew!

      2. Liberte, Egalite, Sororite

        I think it’s a concern for all of us (agreement) don’t worry normal business will shortly be restored and I can continue to better you both in the cut and thrust of debate *ducks*.

  12. Peter

    Do you even need the Fraud Act? When I read the article it looked like straightforward Theft by Deception. What are the Police / CPS doing about it?

    Reply

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