A BUSINESSMAN who won Britain’s top accolade for disabled entrepreneurs has been jailed for 20 months for an £80,000 fraud.
Andrew Thomson, 51, who was born profoundly deaf, admitted using his video-conferencing firm to milk a government scheme intended to help the disabled into work.
He then channelled taxpayers’ money through another company run by his wife into his own pocket.
Thomson pled guilty to defrauding the Access To Work Scheme out of £80,000 between January and November, 2011, before an anonymous tip-off alerted the Department for Work and Pensions.
In 2008, Thomson was celebrated for his drive, creativity and determination after winning the Stelios Award for Disabled Entrepreneurs for his work in establishing interpreting service Sign-now.com. At Stirling Sheriff Court, Sheriff William Gilchrist labelled him a highly culpable fraudster.
The court heard Thomson applied for a grant saying he needed British Sign Language interpreters. He claimed he needed six hours a day of interpreting assistance and two hours a day translation, to assist him with correspondence and making and taking phone calls. Freelance British Sign Language interpreters, charged at £44 an hour, were employed under the Access To Work Scheme through the Interpreting Agency Ltd, run by Thomson’s wife, Caroline, 52.
The Interpreting Agency Ltd submitted invoices in support of Thomson’s claims, which were paid by the Department for Work and Pensions into a bank account in the name of The Interpreting Agency Ltd. The court heard that Thomson himself was a signatory of this bank account.
The Department for Work and Pensions began an investigation into the grant after receiving an anonymous letter.
The Thomsons’ home in New Carron, Falkirk, Sign-now’s offices in Grangemouth and the Interpreting Agency’s offices in Blythswood Square, Glasgow, were searched.
Diaries and invoices were seized, and the freelance British Sign Language interpreters used by the Interpreting Agency Ltd were questioned.
Sarah Lumsden, the depute fiscal, said there were not enough British Sign Language interpreters physically available to cover the number of hours claimed.
The couple had originally been charged with a four-year scam to defraud taxpayers of nearly £250,000 by submitting bogus claims, stretching back to 2008.
Thomson’s company, whose clients had included the NHS, a charity for the deaf and Falkirk Council, was described as a web-based means of enabling deaf people to communicate with the hearing world.
Defence advocate David Nicolson said it had got into financial difficulty when software designed by Thomson was mimicked by others, and his clients no longer needed his services.
He said since the fraud came to light Thomson had been ostracised, isolated and shunned in the deaf world. Sign-now closed in 2012 and The Interpreting Agency also shut down.
Jailing Thomson, Sheriff Gilchrist said: “The amount defrauded was substantial and this amount was defrauded in the context of the accused and his company already receiving generous financial support from the taxpayer.
“In the circumstances I am satisfied that a custodial sentence is the only appropriate sentence.”
Thomson’s deaf wife, who like him uses signing rather than oral language, screamed when sentence was announced and shook her fist at the sheriff. A confiscation hearing under the Proceeds of Crime Act has been set for June 22.