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The European fisheries fund provides funding to the fishing industry and coastal communities to help them adapt to changing conditions in the sector

UK: The owner of a Portsmouth-based refrigeration contractor has been found guilty of submitting false invoices to obtain monies under a European fisheries funding scheme.

Michael Burge of Cosham Refrigeration was one of four defendants convicted at Portsmouth Crown Court, yesterday, of making inflated claims and submitting false invoices to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and its predecessor, the Marine Fisheries Agency (MFA), to obtain monies under two grant schemes.

The offences related to three dishonest applications under the European Fisheries Fund (EFF) and the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG). The schemes aimed to support a sustainable future for the UK fishing industry.

The offences were picked up by the MMO during routine checks to tackle fraud.

Michael Burge pleaded guilty to two counts of false accounting under the Theft Act for supplying false invoices, one to Ian Bickerstaff of West Quay Fisheries and one to William Brock of Brighton and Newhaven Fish Sales. He received a 10 month suspended sentence and was ordered to perform 120 hours of unpaid work.

As a result of using the false invoice supplied to him, Brock received almost £30,000 that he was not entitled to, and kept the money. He pleaded guilty to an offence under the Fraud Act, and received a nine month suspended sentence and was ordered to perform 120 hours unpaid work.

Both Ian Bickerstaff, 60, and David Henman, 65, of West Quay Fisheries, pleaded guilty to two counts of false accounting for supplying false invoices to the MMO and its predecessor agency, the MFA.

Bickerstaff received a suspended sentence of eight months, and was ordered to perform 120 hours of unpaid work. Henman received a seven month suspended sentence and was also made subject to a curfew order (8am-8pm) for two months.

Brock was ordered to pay compensation of £28,782.34 and told the court he would pay the whole of the grant money given (£59,804.09 in total). Bickerstaff was ordered to pay £11,667.18.

All four defendants were ordered to make a contribution to prosecutions costs, amounting to £46,612.80.

The European fisheries fund provides funding to the fishing industry and coastal communities to help them adapt to changing conditions in the sector and become economically resilient and ecologically sustainable. The EFF budget for for 2007-2013 was €4.3bn.

Andy Newlands, principal marine officer at the MMO, said: “We take any attempt to defraud grant schemes very seriously as this is taxpayers’ money. Any attempt to falsely claim funding is potentially depriving others of the opportunity to access these funds.

“We appreciate that the vast majority of applications are made honestly but we can, and will, take action if false or inflated claims are made for grant funding.

“We undertake thorough checks of grant applications to detect any discrepancies, as the grant schemes are hugely important to helping fishermen and related businesses continue to secure a sustainable future for our fishing industry.”