Conman who claimed family died in Grenfell disaster could be freed within months

A serial conman who pretended his family died in the Grenfell Tower fire to obtain thousands of pounds in relief funds is likely to be released from prison before the one year anniversary of the tragedy.

Fraudster Anh Nhu Nguyen, 53, was jailed for 21 months at Southwark Crown Court for his two-week web of deceit which saw him receive about £11,270 from charities and Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC).

Nguyen spun a cruel tale to family liaison officers and journalists, describing in detail how he and his family wrapped themselves in sheets and towels before he lost sight of them in the smoke-clogged stairwell.

His deception spread to the highest level, with Nguyen seen shaking the hand of the Prince of Wales when he visited a relief centre to show his support.

But the day after the June 14 fire, which killed 71 people, the fraudster was seen on CCTV at a housing charity nine miles away appearing "happy and lighthearted", prosecutors said.

On Friday at Southwark Crown Court Judge Philip Bartle QC told Nguyen, who showed no reaction as he stood in the dock, that he would serve half his sentence in jail.

Tower block fire in London
Tower block fire in London

Taking into consideration the seven months he has spent behind bars, this could see Vietnam-born Nguyen released in mid May.

The judge dismissed claims from a psychological report read by Nguyen's barrister Keima Payton, that part of his motivation was to "feel part of a group, to be looked after, wanted and welcome".

He said: "The offences to which you have pleaded guilty are ones which you committed knowing full well what the consequences were. I do not accept that the acts were in some way an attempt to be part of a community and that you were in some way reaching out in order to be embraced by that community.

"I am sure from everything I have seen... that despite your low IQ you knew full well what you were doing, you knew that you were taking advantage of these genuine victims at this terrible time of this terrible tragedy."

Nguyen has an "astonishingly low" IQ that places him in the bottom 2.5% of people in Britain, Ms Payton said.

A psychological report also found he was suffering from "long-term, untreated post-traumatic stress disorder", depression and low empathy, she added.

She said Nguyen had been attacked a number of times while behind bars, adding that she was in no doubt that a recent "severe beating" had left his body "riddled with bruises and cuts".

Judge Bartle said the effect the deceit had on the local community and Nguyen's previous criminal record were both "aggravating factors" in deciding his sentence.

He emphasised this was in no way a victimless crime, citing those directly affected by the Grenfell Tower fire, local volunteers, the public, the local council and the police as victims.

One former tower resident, whose statement was read out in court, said: "The actions of these fraudsters have totally ripped the heart and faith out of the Grenfell Tower community and I personally have lost the little trust I had in the system."

A local volunteer, Loubna Aghzafi, said the fear of encountering fraudsters led to her and others becoming "cautious", adding: "This is not how we wish to work because we just want to help real survivors".

Tower block fire in London
Tower block fire in London

The court also heard how one man, was forced to give a statement explaining his father, who died in the fire, lived in one of the flats Nguyen had claimed to inhabit, which had caused him "extreme distress".

The court was told Nguyen's previous "appalling" criminal record spanned from his teenage years in 1983 to the present day.

He has 28 previous convictions for 56 offences spanning more than 30 years, including theft, dishonest offences, arson and grievous bodily harm.

Some 26 of these are for matters of fraud and dishonesty.

Nguyen was born in Vietnam, has been in the UK since the 1980s, is not a British citizen and has 17 aliases.

Judge Bartle said his past offending showed a "consistent pattern of lying".

At a hearing in November, he admitted two counts of fraud by false representation and one count of making an untrue statement for the purpose of obtaining a passport.

He obtained two laptops, a mobile phone, food, clothes and toiletries as well as cash.