Page last updated at 18:02 GMT, Thursday, 11 September 2008 19:02 UK

Fraudster blamed 'voodoo curse'

By Chris Summers
BBC News

A woman who scandalised a jury when she pulled a child's fingers from her handbag during her trial has been jailed for five years for a tax credit fraud which totalled nearly 1m.

Tax credit fraud is not usually a sensational crime but the trial of Remi Fakorede was an exception.

The 47-year-old was eventually convicted of defrauding the taxpayer out of 925,000 but not before she had told a shocking story.

Remi Fakorede
Fakorede claimed she was the victim of a curse

At one point the Nigerian-born mother-of-six from Hackney, east London, produced from her handbag three fingers which she said belonged to one of her children.

One juror burst into tears and Judge Jacqueline Beech immediately adjourned the case and police officers attended Snaresbrook Crown Court and took a statement from the defendant.

The judge later apologised for the distress the jury had suffered and added: "I have never experienced anything as horrific as this."

It emerged the child had to have the fingers amputated as a result of a kidney condition which led to gangrene but Fakorede claimed her family had been subjected to a "voodoo" curse.

But the jury was sceptical about her claim and certainly did not see it as legal grounds for acquittal.

Fakorede made 39 false tax credit claims between August 2002 and June last year.

She was convicted of conspiracy to defraud and one of her daughters, 21-year-old Denise Shofolawe-Coker, was found guilty of laundering 70,000 of ill-gotten gains.

Ms Shofolawe-Coker, who was a juvenile when the fraud began, was working as a hairdresser at the time but also claimed Jobseeker's Allowance. She has been jailed for 12 months.

Your evidence was utterly unbelievable, with your heavy reliance on voodoo, the most shocking aspect of your conduct being your assertion that your mother was murdered by having been put under a voodoo spell
Judge Jacqueline Beech

Tax credit is designed to help people on low incomes pay for childcare and enable them to go back to work.

The judge said Fakorede was a "thoroughly dishonest woman" who was involved in a scam of "breathtaking" dishonesty which involved Fakorede inventing 20 aliases and creating a string of bogus children, including some she said were disabled.

She also stole National Insurance numbers as part of the plot.

But the game was up when her greed led her to try to claim for childcare costs too.

HM Revenue & Customs decided to halt her payments and their suspicions were confirmed when none of the recipients complained.

During her bravura performance in the witness box Fakorede, who holds joint British and Nigerian nationality, said her mother had been taken from her home in Nigeria and "murdered".

She blamed the "forces of darkness" for putting a curse on her family and then claimed a mysterious "Auntie Margaret" had hijacked both her and her daughter's identities during the fraud and forced them into allowing their accounts to be used to receive some of the money.

Denise Shofolawe-Coker
The frauds began when her daughter was a juvenile

But the judge told Fakorede: "Your evidence was utterly unbelievable, with your heavy reliance on voodoo, the most shocking aspect of your conduct being your assertion that your mother was murdered by having been put under a voodoo spell.

"The actual production by you in court of the fingers of a child during your evidence, which you said were your daughter's in order to establish that voodoo had either been perpetrated upon you or was likely to be perpetrated on you in the future...was utterly disgraceful."

Under English law it is illegal to carry around human body parts without good reason but Andrea Ferguson, defending, said the police had conducted an investigation and carried out DNA tests which proved they were her daughter's fingers.

She said the police had told her Fakorede would not be prosecuted and was free to collect the fingers from Ilford police station.

An HM Revenue and Customs spokesman said: "This was a calculated fraud involving a significant amount of money. The verdicts serve to reinforce HMRC's message that those who believe that they can cheat the system without a second thought should think again."

'Voodoo-cursed' woman is jailed
11 Sep 08 |  London

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