A ’disgusting’ fraudster who faked the death of relatives to steal £19,000 in cash, clothes and accommodation set aside for Grenfell Tower survivors has been jailed for four-and-a-half years.
The day after the fire which claimed 71 lives, Joyce Msokeri, 47, marched into the Westway Centre set up to help victims.
She claimed she was living in a flat in the tower with her husband and sister-in-law, who were both missing, but could not even remember the door number.
In fact, the divorcee spent the night of the blaze at home in Sutton and was recorded hours before she turned up at the relief centre whingeing to Sky TV about her bad signal.
Over the following days Msokeri was showered with cash handouts, a free taxi service and an all-expenses-paid stay at the Hilton Hotel in Holland Park.
She filled her hotel room with so many freebies that she had to store another ten suitcases full of clothes down at the concierge’s desk.
Msokeri spent the money pampering herself with new hairstyles, beauty treatments and handbags as genuine survivors anxiously awaited news of their loved ones.
She was so greedy that when a social worker met her at her hotel room she ordered three meals for the two of them because it was free.
The fraudster became so indignant when there was no new underwear to fit her at the survivor’s centre that a manager forked out to buy her knickers using her own money.
Despite already having three mobile phones, Msokeri had the social worker assigned to her removed from her case when she was not able to get her a fourth.
When the fraud began to unravel she resorted to exploiting her vulnerable ex-partner by persuading him to pose as the missing husband she miraculously found living in a cave in Margate.
Prosecutor David Jeremy QC told the court Msokeri pocketed more than £2,000 worth of cash donations, up to £5,000 worth of goods and more than £1,000 worth of electrical items.
She also obtained £741 worth of backdated benefit payments in addition to £12,300 free accommodation at the Hilton.
Mr Jeremy said that had the fraud gone undetected Msokeri could have netted more than £200,000 in handouts, including funeral costs for loved ones who perished in the inferno.
He told jurors during her trial that volunteers were so desperate to help the victims that there was ‘a culture or atmosphere that was ripe for exploitation by someone like Ms Msokeri.’
‘No-one could really ring themselves to believe that someone would use the devastation caused by the fraud in order to obtain cash and benefits,’ he said.
‘No-one wanted to believe that – and for a long time they didn’t.’
A liar to the very end, Msokeri then play acted throughout her trial and remained in a wheelchair as she appeared wearing a pink fleece with a black coat over her legs on the video-link for sentence.
She could be heard babbling from the dock and pretended she was confined to the wheelchair throughout the trial where she sat slumped with one of her eyes covered by a theatrical patch.
But jurors saw through the ruse and convicted Msokeri of three counts of fraud and one of possessing a fraudulent driving licence.
‘This was one of the most horrific disasters to befall Londoners in recent times but you immediately seized on this tragedy,’ Judge Michael Grieve QC told her.
‘Your greed in taking advantage of the situation you had created was insatiable.
‘These were callous, contemptible and disgusting offences.’
Mohammed Hakim lived in one of the addresses Msokeri initially claimed to have lived in at the time of the fire.
He described in a statement the ‘devastation’ of losing his parents, two brothers and sister in the blaze.
‘My whole world has fallen apart,’ he said.
‘I am at a complete loss. I have lost my entire family.’
He said he felt ‘traumatised that someone has claimed they lived in our flat’.
‘I am trying to mourn my family’s death,’ he said.
‘This has just added to the pain.’
He continued: ‘I am sickened that people would even make up stories and lies just to get money.
‘It is very sickening to know that people want to claim from the dead.’
Another resident of the 17th floor, Corinne Jones, told police her family had lived in the block for around 11 months after being rehoused by the council.
She said that false claims left her feeling ‘frustrated, stressed and angry’.
‘Escaping from that building was one of the most horrifying things I have ever experienced,’ she said.
‘I cannot imagine what type of person would want to lie about being in such a situation.’
Community volunteer Loubna Aghzafi outlined the ‘disgust and disappointment’ felt after certain individuals were ‘quick to make a profit from Grenfell Tower by making false claims and depriving real survivors of the help they need.’
Msokeri was actually living at her home in Sutton, south London, at the time of the fire and owed her landlord around £15,000 in rent.
She was hoping to be allocated a new council flat to disappear and avoid ever settling the debt.
The court heard she was ‘a good actress’ who was able to ‘feign trauma convincingly’ in order to dupe workers at the Westway Centre that she had escaped the fire.
Msokeri was provided with a dedicated social worker and personal police family liaison officers as well as clothes, electrical goods, cash and ‘an array of hats.’
‘She took the opportunity to grab anything she could,’ Mr Jeremy said.
Megan Hessian, who was working as a night manager at the Westway Centre for said she was surprised when Msokeri had ‘complete and total inability to know where she lived.’
But her desperation to get her hands on large sums of cash would prove her undoing.
Msokeri wanted to create a fake husband so she could claim thousands in compensation by pretending he had died in the fire.
She befriended therapist Mariam Buhdeima and they watched a video of the disaster together.
When pixilated pictures of victim who had died were shown Msokeri appeared to burst into tears and said she recognised her husband.
She also claimed to have heard the voice of her missing sister in law on the video.
The volunteer was left distraught at the thought of having shown Msokeri her relatives’ last moments.
When that failed, she got a mentally ill ex-boyfriend to pretend he was her husband who had been miraculously discovered.
Msokeri had Juma Hanlon admitted to St Charles Hospital, pretending he was suffering from the trauma of the fire.
Her lawyers saw him on the ward and told police the missing husband had reappeared after being found living in a cave in Margate, Kent.
But Mr Hanlon left the hospital and a friend contacted the police when he told her what Msokeri was making him do
Msokeri claimed to be suffering from a string of illnesses during her court appearances, including suddenly losing the ability to speak and swallow.
But there was no health reason for her to sit in court in a wheelchair and Dr Ian Cummings told the court said Msokeri was lying about her ailments to frustrate proceedings.
Susan Meek, defending, told the court Msokeri had been ‘bullied, abused and shouted at’ by fellow lags after her conviction was reported in the press.
‘Prior to this trial taking place, there was no difficulty with her in prison with other inmates,’ she said.
‘Since the conviction and the knowledge being there in the wider prison population she has been bullied, abused and shouted at.’
The barrister said the conviction would ‘blight the rest of her life’.
Msokeri, of Ambleside Gardens, Sutton, south London, was jailed for four-and-a-half years.