London

Greene and Co estate agents guilty of parking fraud

Six estate agents have admitted a parking permit scam which investigators say may have cost taxpayers thousands.

The employees at Greene and Co's branch in Maida Vale, west London, used flats they were selling to fraudulently apply for residents' parking permits.

Westminster Magistrates' Court fined the agents for knowingly making false statements.

Westminster Council estimated they could each have saved £10,000 in pay and display charges every year.

Four of the estate agents pleaded guilty - but two of the employees, Simon Cole and Daniel Ginsburg, continued to claim they were innocent until last week.

They changed their plea to guilty.

Some of the agents claimed in mitigation that it was a company policy and in effect they were just following orders.

Prosecutor Nicholas Dunham said: "Mitigation was advanced that there was an edict from on high that that's just what you did, because it saved a lot of money for Greene and Co."

Defence lawyer David Sonn admitted: "False statements were made in order to get a permit and that was done for the financial advantage of the company."

Referring to the alleged company policy, Mr Sonn said: "The court can draw its own inference from the fact that six people from the same company all pleaded guilty to the same offence."

Daniel Ginsburg was fined a total of £1,350.

After hearing that Simon Cole was assistant manager at the branch, magistrates fined him a total of £2,285.

Westminster Council estimates using residents' parking permits instead of pay-and-display while taking clients to viewings could save each agent £10,000 per year.

'Trust me'

On its website, the estate agent claims to operate with the highest ethical standards.

Under the heading 'trust me, I'm an estate agent', the firm claims to be "totally honest and transparent".

The article continues: "Building trust from the moment someone comes into a shop or we step over the threshold of someone's home is vital and that comes with high standards."

The people whose properties were used to dishonestly apply for parking permits were unaware of what was going on.

BBC London confronted Greene and Co's Maida Vale branch manager, but he refused to comment.

John Noble, a fraud investigator working for Westminster Council who helped convict the dishonest agents, said: "For anyone working in Westminster, being able to park without any charges saves them a lot of money.

"It's very irritating to residents who can't park where they live. They are taking advantage of the situation."

He added: "It's money that could be coming into the council to fund areas where there are budget cuts."

The case is believed to be the tip of the iceberg - with the fraud thought to be widespread among London estate agents.

The BBC is aware of two other live investigations into estate agents in Westminster alone.

The National Association of Estate Agents made no comment.

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