An elderly couple told of their horror after a shameless parent pretended she was living in their home in an elaborate scam to get her son into a top secondary school.
Angela and Christopher Cole, both 82, hit out at ‘unscrupulous’ trainee conveyancer Bhakti Shah after she ruthlessly targeted them in a bid to cheat the system.
The pensioners were left out of pocket after they discovered they were building up council tax arrears despite always promptly paying their bills in full.
It emerged Shah, 38, had created fake bills and forged contracts and tenancy agreements to convince the authorities she was a resident at the couple’s £1million semi-detached home in Edgware, north London.
The barefaced fraudster even visited the house to collect post from the elderly pair, explaining to them that it had been delivered by mistake.
Fraudster Bhakti Shah is seen arriving at Willesden Magistrates Court
The home of Chris and Angela Cole in Mill Hill, North London
Chris and Angela Cole eventually helped convict Shah of eight counts of scamming
Shah, a paralegal who worked for a London borough council, used her property expertise in a bid to secure a place for her son at Mill Hill County High School.
But she learned a painful lesson after being convicted of eight counts of using a false instrument with intent during the seven month scam.
The outraged Coles, who did not know Shah, insisted they had no plans to leave their home of nearly 20 years or to share it with anyone else.
Shah was brought to justice after Mrs Cole contacted Barnet Council whose fraud team launched an investigation.
Standing on her driveway with husband Christopher at her side, Angela told MailOnline: ‘She is totally unscrupulous. This woman was training to become a lawyer, I understand – but I’d never trust a woman like that to sell my house.
This should not be allowed to happen. It was me who raised the alarm.
‘I heard this kind of thing goes on everywhere but you can’t have people cheating the system like this. This has been turned into a sensation.’
The couple spoke out after Willesden Magistrates’ Court heard Shah targeted the pensioners’ property as it fell within the catchment area of the oversubscribed school.
The court heard the Coles’ home is 1.1 miles from Mill Hill school which allocates just 158 places to families who live within 1.3 miles.
Shah attempted to claim she lived 1.1 miles from the school in Edgware as opposed to where she actually lived
Shah had claimed she had purchased a spot of land close to the couple’s Mill Hill home
Shah’s rented home is 3.4 miles away in Hendon, the court heard.
The fraud began after she first applied for a place at the school claiming she was going to build property on a patch of land which sits behind the elderly couple’s home and had been purchased by her ex-partner.
Shah complained to Barnet Council after their schools admissions team rejected her bid, saying it could only base applications on current addresses.
She then changed her story, claiming she lived in the property in front of the piece of land which was in fact the Coles’ home.
After registering a water and council tax account at the property, Shah edited an email from EDF energy to contain the new postcode and create a fake water bill.
Prosecutor Parina Patel told the court last week that Shah used her skills as a conveyancer to create a false contract of sale and land registry form.
She initially put the wrong house number on the fake contract of sale and had to submit 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.
Shah admitted eight counts of using a copy of a false instrument between October 2021 and May 2022
Describing the impact of the fraud on the Coles, Ms Patel told the court: ‘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 Shah for her to collect postage addressed to herself.’
Outlining the case, Ms Patel said: ‘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.
‘Had the council accepted she had moved in and had not discovered discrepancies her son would have secured a place at Mill Hill County School.
‘This was not a one-off error of judgment – there was premeditation and planning to submit a variety of documents over a seven-month period.’
Shah’s lawyer Daniel Cavaglieri told the court that her son – who is now in a fee-paying school – had failed the entrance exam to get into a different institution.
The lawyer added his client ‘wholeheartedly accepts what she did was wrong’, and said her career prospects were now in tatters.
He added: ‘Both of her jobs are going to come to an end – she will lose her job with Bromley Council and she will not be able to apply for a conveyancer license with this conviction.
‘The biggest punishment is going to be to lose her two potential careers, [which] she’d worked for for quite a long time, all going to go to waste.
‘The genesis of this was her desire to see her son at the best possible school he could get to – something we all can relate to.
‘You can be sure she has very much learnt her lesson and there is no reason she would be before court again.’
District Judge Lorraine McDonagh told Shah: ‘This offending took place over a significant period of time, it’s not just one document, there has been significant effort and planning incorporating various different documents.
‘I also take into account that she would have been very familiar with these types of documents given the work she does and that in my view is very clearly an aggravating factor.’
The judge ordered a pre-sentence report to be prepared and placed Shah on unconditional bail.
She told Shah: ‘I would advise you I’m keeping all sentencing options open, including committal to the crown court, I’m not ruling out any option.’
Shah admitted eight counts of using a copy of a false instrument between October 2021 and May 2022. She will be sentenced next month.
The prosecution was brought by Barnet Council who are applying for £5,064.29 costs to be awarded.
Shah declined to comment when she opened the door at her modest flat just off the A1 trunk road.