A 37-year-old Nigerian woman was sentenced to six months imprisonment suspended for a year, for using false identification documents to get work with vulnerable adults and children in care homes and a school in Gloucestershire, UK.
Fatou Johnson, of Nutfield Gardens, Ilford, Essex, pleaded guilty at Gloucester Crown Court to two charges of possession of false documents – a French passport and a National Insurance card – and fraudulently using them to obtain a Disclosure and Barring service (DBS) certificate to get work. She was also ordered to attend ten rehabilitation activity sessions.
Johnson was arrested at a school in Tewkesbury when her offences were detected, the court heard.
Judge Michael Cullum told her last week, that it was ‘exceptionally serious’ to use counterfeit documents to deceive the DBS ‘whose job is to safeguard the vulnerable.’
But after being told that despite working illegally Johnson had an ‘exemplary work record’ with ‘exceptionally positive references’ from those that had employed her he allowed her to walk free from court.
“It is serious that the DBS were misled but there is enough mitigation to suspend the jail sentence,” he said.
Prosecutor, Janine Wood, told the judge that Johnson had arrived in the UK on a visa in October 2011. The visa expired in 2012 but she then became an ‘overstayer’ and remained.
Mrs Wood said that in August last year the DBS began to check the documents that Johnson had provided in her application for a certificate and concluded in September that they were counterfeit.
Johnson was arrested on December 30 last year at Cambian Southwick Park School in Tewkesbury where she was then working.
It emerged that Johnson had worked in 2013 with adults with dementia, Mrs Wood said. In 2014 she worked for the for the Brandon Trust with individuals with learning difficulties.
Mrs Wood said she also worked at Deanwood Lodge, in Maisemore, and Severn Care in Chaxhill as well as the school in Tewkesbury.
“In respect of her work there were no issues. She was well regarded by those that employed her,” said Mrs Wood.
However that employment was work that she was not entitled to do, and therefore amounted to fraud, the prosecutor explained.
“There is financial gain, because she worked and worked for a number of years. This wasn’t just getting a job. This was obtaining a DBS certificate,” the prosecutor said.
She confirmed that Johnson had no previous convictions recorded against her.
Eugene Hickey, representing Johnson accepted that under sentencing guidelines:
“It is right that a custodial sentence is usually expected. But each case is to be judged on its own merits,” the lawyer argued.
“It is an aggravating feature to deceive the DBS,” he conceded, “but we know that not only did she work hard, she was very well thought of by her employers.
Mr Hickey set out how Johnson lost both her parents in Nigeria in ‘violent circumstances’.
“She sought a better life, came to the UK, and arrived in Newcastle,” he told the judge.
He said she was exploited into working in prostitution by people who saw ‘her belief in voodoo, and took some of her hair’.
“She found a way to escape, and made her way to London. She knew no-one, and was in prostitution again for a short while. She met someone who provided her with the documents,” he said, “not for money, but to help her.
Mr Hickey said Johnson began to work in care, and had ‘found her vocation’.
“The tragedy is that she did that falsely,” he said, adding “She is now trying to regulate her position in the UK. Her application is being considered. She would like to go through the proper procedures and work in the sector she found so rewarding.”
Mr Hickey said he recognised it was a very serious set of offences, and ‘didn’t seek to minimise that’.
“But she was in a frightful position,” he said. “She had been vulnerable and exploited. It was a choice of prostitution or this. She chose this. It doesn’t excuse it, but perhaps explains it,” he concluded.
The judge said to Johnson as he sentenced her.
“You were an overstayer, and you then worked. You were not entitled to work. You obtained false documents, and I find it impossible to believe you were granted them. However you did work diligently and hard,” the judge said, “and you know what it is to be vulnerable.” he said.