Northern Irish actress given four year prison sentence for her part in film bid scam
A Newry-born actress has been sentenced to four years and eight months in jail as part of a criminal gang who pretended to be making a Hollywood blockbuster movie.
Redhead Aoife Madden (31) - niece of Sinn Fein MP Conor Murphy - was part of the gang behind a sham movie appropriately called 'A Landscape Of Lies'.
The British and Irish national, of Maclise Road, west London, was said to have submitted a "pack of lies" to inspectors about the project.
She was one of five fraudsters who pretended to be making a Hollywood blockbuster as part of a £2.8 million VAT and film tax credits scam have been jailed.
Inspectors were told that A-listers from Hollywood would be starring in a £19.6 million production that would be shot in the UK.
But the film Landscape Of Lives was never made and the only footage shot was seven minutes of "completely unusable quality" filmed in a flat and costing just £5,000.
Bashar Al-Issa, 34, a former Iraqi national who is now British, of Rodney Court, Maida Vale, London, described as the orchestrator of the fraud, was jailed for six-and-a-half years by Judge Juliet May, sitting at Southwark Crown Court in central London.
Two other defendants in the scam - Tariq Hassan, 52, a Pakistani national, of Willingale Road, Loughton, Essex, and Osama Al Baghdady, 51, an Iraqi national of Lowther Road, Crumpsall, Manchester, received four-year jail sentences.
A fifth defendant, architect Ian Sherwood, 53, of Esher Drive, Sale, Manchester, who allowed his offices to be used for the fraud, was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail.
Judge May said the fraud had been based on an "entirely bogus film project".
All five defendants were also disqualified from holding company directorships - Al-Issa for 10 years; Madden for eight years, and Hassan, Al-Baghdady and Sherwood for five years.
The court heard that Madden, said by the prosecution as having played an important organisational role in the fraud, pleaded guilty at the start of the trial to two charges of conspiracy to cheat the public revenue between April 2010 and April 2011 related to VAT repayments and film tax credits.
Al-Issa was convicted on both charges after a trial. Hassan was convicted of one charge - conspiracy to cheat the revenue in relation to film tax credits.
Al Baghdady and Sherwood were convicted of one charge of conspiracy to cheat the revenue in relation to VAT repayments.
The court heard that Stuart Knight, an innocent script writer who had no idea of the fraud, was hired in January 2010 by Madden and Al-Issa to write the script for A Landscape of Lives. In an email in April 2010 he was told that shooting would take place in Egypt and that Omar Sharif would play one of the characters in the film, prosecutor Rebecca Chalkley told the court.
Ms Chalkley said that among a series of false claims submitted in support of the scam was a statement that they had secured the services of Dr Who director Colin Teague and his contract had been finalised. Ms Chalkley said the claim was "simply fantasy."
"Your honour (Judge May) will recall from the evidence that was given by Mr Teague, that was simply fantasy," Ms Chalkley told the court.
At one stage Madden had said that she was related to the actor Sinead Cusack and was "going to use this to try to get her husband Jeremy Irons involved," Ms Chalkley said.
"There was no truth in either of those individuals being involved in the project," Ms Chalkley told the court.
Judge May said innocent actors had given their services to the bogus project, never suspecting that they were being exploited to create a "realistic background" for a fraud.
Selva Ramasamy, defending Madden, who has appeared in a Royal Shakespeare Company production, said her long standing commitment to the performing arts lay behind her involvement.
"She is not somebody primarily motivated by making money, a quick buck or anything of that sort at all.
He said she came from a "close and supportive" family who live in Ireland and her imprisonment in the UK would be particularly "tough."
"There is no suggestion of a lavish lifestyle against her in this case and the prosecution accept that her involvement in this case was not fradulent at the outset," she said.
"We submit her involvement in this entire thing has been motivated by her desire to pursue her calling in the arts. It sadly led to her downfall."
Raquel Simpson, for Sherwood, said there was no evidence that he received any financial benefit from the fraud. "He is clearly not an organiser, he is clearly not a puppet master or a ring master," he said.
"Mr Sherwood's culpability was to allow himself to be used by Bashar Al-Issa," he said.