Mother who faked address to get her son into top school is spared jail

Mother who pretended she was living in elderly couple’s home by forging contracts, tenancy agreements and bills to get her son into top school is spared jail

  • Bhakti Shah, 38, falsely put down an address in order to get her son into a school
  • Angela and Christopher Cole, 82, of north London, received council tax arrears

A mother who forged contracts, tenancy agreements and utility bills to try and get her son into one of the borough’s most sought-after schools has been spared jail.

Bhakti Shah, 38, was a trainee conveyancer who also worked as a tax recovery officer for Bromley Council, when she pretended she was living at a home owned by an elderly couple.

She chose the location because it was within the catchment area of Mill Hill County High School in north London.

She created fake energy and council tax accounts for the house as part of the con and even brazenly collected her post from the real owners, knocking on their door and explaining it had been delivered to them by mistake.

Angela and Christopher Cole, both 82, were astonished to find they were building up council tax arrears when they had always paid their bill promptly.

Shah who was working as a paralegal while training to become a conveyancer, admitted eight counts of using a false instrument with intent between 29 October 2021 and 20 May 2022.

Fraudster Bhakti Shah is seen arriving at Willesden Magistrates Court

The home of Chris and Angela Cole in Mill Hill, North London

Wearing a red dress with her hair in a ponytail, Shah was sentenced to 20 weeks imprisonment, suspended for 12 months at Willesden Magistrates’ Court today.

She must also carry out 150 hours of unpaid community work and participate in 10 days of rehabilitation activity.

District Judge Lorraine McDonagh told Shah: ‘I do find this case clearly demonstrates a higher culpability due to the sophisticated nature of the fraud. You used your skills as a trainee conveyancer to commit this fraud.

‘Whilst I acknowledge the stress and anxiety caused to the residents, I do not find greater harm to be present in this particular case.

‘I do take into account that you are very remorseful. I do find however, that these offences do cross the custodial threshold.

‘I am satisfied there is a realistic prospect of rehabilitation in this case.’

The judge told Shah, who is now unemployed, she must also pay £2,500 in costs with a £128 surcharge.

Prosecutor Parina Patel told the court: ‘There was some planning involved. She has used parts of her knowledge as having both a role within the council as a council tax recovery officer and a trainee conveyancer.

Chris and Angela Cole eventually helped convict Shah of eight counts of scamming

Shah attempted to claim she lived 1.1 miles from the school in Edgware as opposed to where she actually lived 

‘I would say that this potentially falls within the high-level of culpability, due to the fact it was conducted over a period of time, albeit not a significant period of time.

‘There was a direct impact on the residents. You have seen the impact on Mr Cole about the anxiety this has caused him and his wife.’

Ms Patel earlier explained that Barnet Council coordinates the admissions for all the schools in Barnet and receives 15,000 applications a year.

‘Ms Shah’s application was for her son to attend Mill Hill County school, one of the most popular schools in the borough.

‘In 2022/23 they received 1,303 applications for 273 places.’

Shah lives in Hendon and her ex-partner had purchased a piece of land at the rear of a property in Beech Walk in Edgware.

She applied for a school place on the basis that she was planning to build a property on the land and move in.

But the plot was landlocked and had no access to a road.

Beech Walk is 1.1 miles from the school while Shah’s home was 3.4 miles away. 158 places at the school were allocated to those who lived within 1.3 miles.

The council’s admissions team rejected the application, saying it could only be based on her current address.

Shah had claimed she had purchased a spot of land close to the couple’s Mill Hill home 

Shah admitted eight counts of using a copy of a false instrument between October 2021 and May 2022

But Shah complained to the council and the school that her son had not been offered a place.

She changed her story and said she did in fact live at the property in front of her piece of land.

It was owned by the elderly couple who had never met her before.

Shah registered a water and council tax account at the property.

She edited an email from EDF energy to contain the postcode of the other property, produced a fake water bill and used her skills as a conveyancer to create a false contract of sale and land registry form.

The court heard that Mr and Mrs Cole had lived there for ten years and had no intention of moving out.

Shah initially put the wrong house number on the fake contract of sale and had submitted another one leading to a further offence.

When the council did not believe she had moved house, she created a false tenancy agreement showing she was renting out her property in Hendon.

She was actually a tenant herself and her landlord confirmed she lived at the address throughout.

Ms Patel said: ‘Had the council accepted she had moved in to and had not discovered discrepancies her son would have secured a place at Mill Hill County School.

‘99 per cent of the time documents are uploaded and taken at face value but here there were discrepancies which warranted further investigation.

‘Had it not been for the diligence of the school admissions team in verifying the documents and asking questions, the application would have gone through.

‘The council tax account resulted in costs mounting up for the real occupiers and them having to pay more each month.

‘Unnecessary distress was caused to them. They were visited by Ms Shah for her to collect postage addressed to herself.

‘The owner had to contact the water company after discovering his customer account showed he had moved out of the property.

‘This was not a one-off error of judgement- there was premeditation and planning to submit a variety of documents over a seven month period.’

Shah’s lawyer Daniel Cavaglieri said her son had failed to get into a different school because he failed the entrance exam.

‘She felt he had been through a difficult time and didn’t do as well as he might have.

‘Her plan was to move into a property on that land but she was informed her application had no hope.

‘She wholeheartedly accepts that what she did was wrong.’

Mr Cavaglieri added: ‘The utter shame she feels, having to leave her home temporarily, has shocked her to her core.

‘There’s devastation she’s caused to her children, who are all old enough to be aware of this. She’s really going to struggle to find a decent career.

‘What she doctored wasn’t technically difficult to do. Deleting some of the details – I would submit that it’s perhaps not sophisticated.

‘She was a trainee conveyancer at the time. Her knowledge and experience was greater at the time than the average individual, but no more than anyone who buys or sells a property.

‘She wasn’t motivated by personal gain. I think that has to be accepted in this case.

‘The intention was to provide the best opportunity for her son, it wasn’t about anything to provide for the mother.

‘They [Mr and Mrs Cole] were unintentionally and unexpectedly caused distress and this is something that Ms Shah deeply regrets.

‘She’s had two jobs for a considerable period of time. For the last year or so she’s worked as a trainee conveyance and with Bromley council.

‘I don’t see the link between working for a council tax department and offending in this case.

‘At present she’s in a little bit of debt. She’s into her overdraft and [has] a credit card bill of £946. She’s lost her two primary sources of income.’

Shah, of Cheyne Close, Hendon, admitted eight counts of using a copy of a false instrument with intent it be accepted as genuine. The prosecution was brought by Barnet Council.

Cllr Pauline Coakley Webb, Barnet Council’s Children, Education and Safeguarding Committee Chair, said: ‘This outcome reinforces our dedication to combating fraud and upholding the integrity of our education system.

‘Our anti-fraud team worked incredibly hard gathering all of the information needed for this case and so I’m very pleased that the perpetrator has been brought to justice.

‘Barnet remains committed to ensuring a fair and transparent admissions process is available to all.’

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