Former solicitor who exploited Grenfell Tower scheme is jailed

Flora Mendes submitted fraudulent applications which claimed 14 immigrants were living at Grenfell Tower during the fire.

The Grenfell Tower fire killed 72 people in June 2017
The Grenfell Tower fire killed 72 people in June 2017 (Aaron Chown/PA)

A struck-off solicitor exploited the Grenfell Tower tragedy and Windrush scheme to submit fraudulent immigration applications.

Flora Mendes, 45, from Luton, made up fake addresses in Grenfell Tower as part of a deceptive scheme to convince 14 immigrants she was a legitimate immigration lawyer who could help secure them residence in the UK.

Mendes also exploited the Windrush scheme as she sought to provide immigration services to five people without being qualified.

All these offences were committed despite the Indian national being struck off as a solicitor in 2015.

The defendant, who had previously pleaded guilty to all 15 charges, appeared at St Albans Crown Court on Friday where she was sentenced to a total of seven and a half years in prison, half of which will be served in custody.

Mendes had been struck off as a solicitor in 2015 after being found guilty of providing unregulated immigration advice, the court heard.

Despite this, she continued to offer immigration services and charged 14 people an average of £2,800 per application.

Between October 2020 and March 2021, she exploited a Home Office immigration concession for any survivors who lost their homes in the Grenfell Tower fire.

Mendes had created fake addresses at the tower or attributed existing properties to people who had never lived there.

It is unclear how many of her victims knew she was using the Grenfell scheme, but the court heard how one applicant had written to her saying: “Can you please explain what’s happening? I was not aware we took that route.”

The Home Office began investigating Mendes after a member of staff became suspicious at the number of applications citing extenuating circumstances that were being received so long after the January 2018 deadline.

The case was heard at St Albans Crown Court
The case was heard at St Albans Crown Court (Nick Ansell/PA)

Investigators traced the applications through Royal Mail and found out they had been sent from the same post office in Luton, a short distance from Mendes’ address.

When the content of each application was looked at, they were found to have a number of features in common, including the use of the phrase “when fire busted in our building”.

A comprehensive police investigation found six of the flat numbers referenced in the applications had never existed, the court heard.

Where flat numbers did exist, former residents of those flats had no knowledge of the applicants.

In total, Mendes is believed to have made roughly £39,000 through exploitation of the scheme.

Judge Geoffrey Payne described the defendant’s actions as “truly disgraceful” and said: “This is not just about the profit margin … it is also about the effect (your actions) had on individuals involved in the Grenfell Tower tragedy. You took money from a scheme designed to help them.”

For these 14 charges, Mendes was handed a concurrent sentence of 74 months.

Between 2018 and 2023, including while on bail for the other Grenfell offences, Mendes continued to offer immigration services to five people without being qualified to do so.

She again duped individuals, which included one person with mental health and learning difficulties, into thinking she was a legitimate immigration lawyer and charged them large sums of money for advice and the promise of an application on their behalf.

The defendant then went on to only submit applications for schemes with no fees, such as the Windrush scheme, or via avenues where fees had been waived by claiming her client was destitute.

In one case where a waiver fee application had been successful, Mendes told her ‘client’ that it had failed and asked them to pay £3,213.

When the individual asked her for updates, during which time she was under investigation for the Grenfell-related offences, she told them to calm down. She then said the Home Office had asked for more documents and told the applicant they would have to pay another £500.

With her bank account under restraint because of the police investigation, she instead told the individual to pay it into another account in her ex-husband’s name.

Judge Payne told her: “You abused a position of power over these vulnerable people … They came to you because they thought you were qualified and suitable person to provide immigration advice to them.

“They were wrong.”

The judge sentenced her to an additional 16 months for these offences, bringing her total time in custody up to 90 months.

Minister for illegal migration Michael Tomlinson said: “This sentencing shows the effective and relentless work to dismantle the networks of people helping illegal migrants stay in the UK.

“Those suspected of abusing our immigration system for profit will be swiftly brought to justice.”