Kathy Oldfield is a foremost victim of the government’s Proceeds of Crime Act. She has committed no crime herself. She has never been suspected of committing any crime. But her businesses and most of her assets have been taken from her by out-of-control government recovery agencies.
Confiscating the assets of honest and hard-working people
The day that her husband was arrested was the day that businesswoman Kathy Oldfield’s life fell to pieces. This, strangely, wasn’t her husband’s fault; his criminality was certainly crass, but she could easily have recovered from it.
It is the actions of the British authorities that have impoverished her. The businesses she developed through her own hard work are now either paralysed or destroyed.
The Proceeds of Crime Act was passed in 2002 with the intention of confiscating whatever money and possessions criminals had built up. However, as Kathy’s case demonstrates, police recovery agencies are today using the Act to target people who have committed no crime, and to seize not only assets obtained dishonestly but also those that have been accrued perfectly lawfully.
Kathy, who is forty-one, lives in Culcheth, Cheshire. Her family has a long pedigree in the cake-making business. In 1850, her great-great-great-grandfather established the Snowdrift bakery in Old Trafford, Manchester. By the end of the Second World War, her grandfather was manufacturing 100 tonnes of slab cake per week for miners to take down the pits.
In 1993, that business passed on to her uncle. With her father, Kathy, who had just left school, set up her own company in the same area. She designed a new product: Kathy’s Kones – biscuit-lined marshmallow cones that were sold alongside Jaffa Cakes and Tunnock’s marshmallows.
From the start, the business was flourishing. In her first full year’s trading, she sold over 10 million cones. ‘We supplied Asda, Morrison’s and Iceland’, she recalled, ‘and I employed thirty people.’
Kathy also had a second profitable venture. She and her mother used £180,000 of an inheritance from her grandparents to set up a property business together.
‘We bought three properties in Cheshire. I could see the potential’, she said. ‘We did up one property, sold it, made a profit and ploughed that back in, and went from there.’
She was also a keen sportswoman who played netball for England.
‘I’d played for England at Altrincham grammar school, when I was 15. Then I was captain of the under-21s team, and eventually got into the senior England team.
‘It was a tough period. I remember sometimes getting up at five o’clock, and I’d be so tired, I’d have to get up to go to my factory in Old Trafford, work twelve hours there and then drive to netball training, leave training in my sweaty gear and go back to the factory at night to check on everything. I’d be wiped out when I got home at 10.30, go straight to bed and then be up again at 5.00 in the morning to start all over again.
‘But you get on with the job, don’t you?’
In 1999, at a Football Conference game between Altrincham and Doncaster Rovers, she met Samir Dahou, who was born in Morocco but came to the UK with his family as a three-year-old. He was a striker for Doncaster, although at the time he had a knee injury which, as it turned out, would end his career.
Things progressed quickly between them. He’d come out of a relationship about six months earlier and had two young boys, who were then five and three.
‘One weekend I was away, playing a county game’, Kathy said, ‘when I received a text from their mother saying that she didn’t want the children anymore, and they’d be better off with Sam and me.’
So Kathy suddenly became the stepmother of two growing boys – and there were soon three children of her own with Dahou. Their first child, Zack, barely survived. He was born in 2005 at Altrincham hospital with a condition known as Transposition of the Great Arteries (in which the aorta and the pulmonary artery are the wrong way round).
‘I remember Sam was in pieces, crying, “he’s got a heart condition, they don’t think he’s going to live”.’
He was taken to Alder Hay children’s hospital in Liverpool, where a fifteen-hour operation on the week-old baby saved his life.
Three weeks after Zack came out of hospital, Kathy and Sam were married. They then had two more children, both girls.
‘When I met him, Sam had just bought this wreck of a house, a small two-bedroom terrace on the other side of Manchester’, recalled Kathy. ‘But financially he was struggling, he’d missed two of the mortgage repayments. He was still on Doncaster’s books, but at the time they weren’t in the league so they weren’t paying well.
‘So I said I would take on this property. I knew I could raise funds. I paid the mortgage and took over everything from that point. I remortgaged, spent thousands doing it up and sold it six months later for a £55,000 profit.
‘Then I saw a property near Ramsbotham, a little further north. Again, I could tell I could do it up and get a quick return on it. I sold it within a year for a £25,000 profit. Then I bought the family home in Culcheth.’
Apart from a brief stint with a local courier firm, Sam worked continuously at Kathy’s bakery. He also had a small business buying and selling cars, though this was barely profitable. On a couple of occasions he bid for cars at auctions which Kathy would then go and pay for.
They were at home, at five past six in the morning on 4 October 2007, when their house was raided by a dozen Northumbria police officers.
‘Sam confessed to me in front of the police’, Kathy remembered. ‘He said he’d done something stupid and brought drugs into the house. I just remember screaming out loud and then I passed out. It was complete and utter shock.’
At the back of a junk room, Dahou showed police two brief-cases. They contained not only 53.5 kilos of heroin, but also two guns. (The drugs operation was based in Newcastle, which is why Northumbria officers were involved.)
Obviously he was arrested, but the police also arrested Kathy for money-laundering.
‘At the time’, she said, ‘I didn’t even know what money-laundering was.’
They took her away for interview leaving the children, the youngest of whom was just five months, to be looked after by strangers.
They asked if she wanted a solicitor.
‘Really naïvely, I said “No, let’s just hurry up, I’ve got to get back to my children”. Basically they just interviewed me about my finances: what houses I owned, about my company. It wasn’t really an interview, it was a finding-out-of-information for them – what I’ve since learned is called a fishing expedition. They had no genuine reason to believe I’d laundered any money.’
As a Muslim, Dahou never touched alcohol or smoked or took drugs himself. He gave football coaching to youngsters and was well-regarded in the local community. He has never revealed why he became caught up in drug-dealing (saying that to give information could endanger others). Those who knew him suspect that, with his cultural background, he found it difficult to accept a situation in which all the material benefits of the household were earned by his wife.
In due course he pleaded guilty and, in June 2008, was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Had the story ended there, no one would have thought any more about it: a criminal had been caught and properly punished.
But the story didn’t end there. In fact, it is still going on today – because of the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA).
Police forces can keep 50% of the proceeds they generate and, with the tightening of police budgets, this has become an important means of generating additional income. In this case, Northumbria officers started recovery proceedings and blithely told the court that Kathy ‘has a criminal lifestyle and has benefited from her general criminal conduct’.
This was untrue, but it is remarkably easy to get untrue information into the courts in these circumstances. In POCA proceedings, there is no realistic opportunity to dispute evidence and, indeed, no provision for third parties to be represented at all. Wholesale inaccuracies can be placed on the court record and will never be remedied.
Assets recovery officers told the court in evidence that the Culcheth home was a drugs den; this could be deduced from the piles of cash lying around the house, the huge bag of ‘white powder’ and Dahou’s expensive BMW.
Again, none of this was true: the piles of cash were wages for the workforce; the ‘white powder’ was sugar for Kathy’s Kones; and Dahou didn’t drive a BMW – he drove a Seat Alhambra people carrier with 149,000 miles on the clock, though this was never mentioned in police documents.
‘They don’t want someone they’re portraying in court as a big-time drugs dealer driving a clapped-out Seat’, Kathy pointed out.
On the basis of what he was told by Northumbria police, the judge granted them an unconditional restraining order on all of Kathy’s finances and properties. He even restrained a house purchased by Dahou’s elder sister on the basis that its purchase could have been financed from criminal proceeds. In fact it was bought in 1986 – when Dahou was eleven years old.
After learning of her husband’s criminality, Kathy resolved that, even in these circumstances, she should try to keep the marriage together for the sake of the children.
The irony is that if she had reacted instead by divorcing him, and matters had then been resolved in the family courts, it is certain that she would have been awarded everything; after all, she was the one who was not only taking responsibility for the children, but who was bringing in all the family income.
Yet in the POCA hearings, the court reached the opposite conclusion, and decided that Dahou was entitled to 50% of everything that Kathy possessed, ignoring the fact that she alone had built up all the family assets.
A receiver was appointed to manage her affairs. He then evicted the tenants from one of her properties, so she no longer received the rental income.
‘Police forensic accountants demanded to see everything’, she said, ‘including everything to do with my grandparents’ estate. They also went through all my company accounts.’
Naturally, her creditworthiness instantly plummeted, her business was put into difficulties and staff had to be laid off.
‘There’s no law under which my accounts and my company should be appearing in these proceedings’, she explained. ‘Everything in these proceeds of crime hearings has been concerned with me, not with him.’
The proceedings have taken years. Judicial delay benefits the authorities because they have limitless resources, while it saps the financial and emotional reserves of members of the public caught up in proceedings. It also creates a lot of work for lawyers.
Meanwhile, Kathy was kept on bail for fifteen months.
‘On two occasions I answered bail at Runcorn, and Northumbria police didn’t even show up or bother to let me know that they weren’t attending. My own time was wasted and I had to bear the costs of my lawyer’s time too.
‘Finally, they had to admit there wasn’t a case.
‘It was the same with the restraint on my property, which lasted fifty-five months.’
In fact, that part of the case was only resolved through the beneficial intervention of the barrister Abigail Coghill-Smith, who explained that the restraining orders were themselves illegal. So they were lifted, although Coghill-Smith herself was unfortunately unable to take further part in the case.
No lawyer of equivalent expertise has since assisted them. One of the inevitable consequences for those in the Oldfield family’s position is that after the authorities have restrained the assets, then the finances are frozen and hiring reputable lawyers becomes impossible.
At the outset, police gave testimony that the amount which Dahou had accrued from his criminal activity was over £2 million. This was just a fantasy figure.
At the time of his arrest, he had handed over to police about £20,000; Kathy additionally handed over £15,000 which he had given her in the days before his arrest, as payment for the cars bought at auction. Dahou said this was all the money he had ever made from his criminal actions, and there is no evidence that he made more than that.
Nevertheless, the court ordered that Dahou should pay £250,000 as his proceeds of crime. This was another figure plucked out of thin air.
‘They’ve got all his bank account details’, Kathy explained, ‘and they can’t even show that he has any money, let alone any money that has been achieved through crime.’
When he said he couldn’t pay, the Crown Prosecution Service enforced a default sentence and so he will serve an additional twenty-one months in prison. The penalty period should have been 36 months, but it was reduced because of Dahou’s conduct in prison: he had intervened to prevent serious injury to a warder.
Even so, the cost of this additional sentence to the public purse will be around £75,000. It provides a telling example of how POCA, far from bringing in revenue, is actually costing the country money.
The years since 2007 have been filled with an endless sequence of court battles. Under the utmost pressure, Kathy has tried to cling on to the vestiges of her business and to raise her children well – something that, despite the efforts of the State, she seems to be achieving: Dahou’s eldest son, to whom she is stepmother, is now reading Maths at Birmingham University, and her girls play football for Everton Academy.
She is a normal woman who has been brutally victimised as a result of an act of parliament that, in practice, seems to have become just another gravy train for government lawyers.
About two years ago, Kathy received a renewed approach from Asda with a potentially large order.
‘That would have been huge and would have allowed me to get back to where I was, employing about 30 people. So I asked the court to release funds from the Santander account that they’d put a restraining order on, saying I needed to invest that money in my company.
‘But permission was refused, so I lost all that. Now I’ve had to downsize, I’m employing only six staff.’
Kathy has lost her grandparents’ inheritance and the financial reserves she had built up and is now desperately trying to hold on to the family home.
‘This has cost me well over a million pounds; all that money, in my opinion, has been dishonestly taken by Northumbria police and the North-East recovery agency.
‘I’ve been trying to keep everything as normal as possible for the sake of the children. I could have dealt with Sam’s imprisonment. But what is impossible to deal with is the relentless pressure from the courts. The last eight years have been filled with stress and heartburn.
‘There have been neither proper investigations nor ethical considerations. This act is being used against ordinary, decent people whose lives are being ruined forever.’