"This was not a one-off error of judgement"
A court heard that a mother pretended she was living in an elderly couple’s home in a bid to get her son into a top London school.
Trainee conveyance Bhakti Shah had applied for a school place and claimed she was going to build property on a piece of land in Beech Walk, Edgware – which was behind the elderly couple’s home.
The plot, purchased by her ex-partner, was about 1.1 miles from Mill Hill County High School. Meanwhile, the 38-year-old’s home was 3.4 miles away in Hendon.
Mill Hill allocates just 158 places to those who live within 1.3 miles.
But after Barnet Council’s admissions team rejected her bid, Shah complained before claiming that she lived at the property in front of the piece of land.
In reality, it was owned by an elderly couple who had never met her before.
They were shocked to discover they were building up council tax arrears when they had always paid their bill promptly.
Shah was working as a paralegal aiming to become a conveyancer and also works for Bromley Council.
At Willesden Magistrates’ Court, Shah admitted eight counts of using a false instrument with intent between October 29, 2021, and May 20, 2022.
Prosecutor Parina Patel said: “Barnet Council coordinates the admissions for all the schools in Barnet and receives 15,000 applications a year.
“Ms Shah’s application was for her son to attend Mill Hill County School, one of the most popular schools in the borough.
“In 2022/23 they received 1,303 applications for 273 places.”
Shah created fake energy bills and council tax accounts for the house. She also used her skills as a conveyancer to create a bogus contract of sale and land registry form.
She even visited their home to collect post, telling them it had been delivered by mistake.
The homeowners had lived at the £1 million property for 10 years and had no intention of moving out.
Shah initially put the wrong house number on the fake contract of sale and had to submit another one.
When the council did not believe she had moved house, Shah created a false tenancy agreement showing she was renting out her property in Hendon.
She was actually a tenant herself and her landlord confirmed she lived at the address throughout.
Ms Patel said: “Had the council accepted she had moved in and had not discovered discrepancies her son would have secured a place at Mill Hill County School.
“Ninety-nine per cent of the time documents are uploaded and taken at face value but here there were discrepancies which warranted further investigation.
“Had it not been for the diligence of the school admissions team in verifying the documents and asking questions, the application would have gone through.”
Ms Patel said Shah’s actions caused the elderly homeowners “unnecessary distress” as bills mounted.
She added: “This was not a one-off error of judgement – there was premeditation and planning to submit a variety of documents over a seven-month period.”
Shah’s lawyer Daniel Cavaglieri said her son had failed the entrance exam to get into a different school.
He said his client “wholeheartedly accepts what she did was wrong”, and claimed her career prospects were now in tatters.
Mr Cavaglieri added: “Both of her jobs are going to come to an end – she will lose her job with Bromley Council and she will not be able to apply for a conveyancer license with this conviction.
“The biggest punishment is going to be to lose her two potential careers, [which] she’d worked for quite a long time, all going to go to waste.
“The genesis of this was her desire to see her son at the best possible school he could get to – something we all can relate to.
“You can be sure she has very much learnt her lesson and there is no reason she would be before court again.”
District Judge Lorraine McDonagh told Shah:
“This offending took place over a significant period of time, it’s not just one document, there has been significant effort and planning incorporating various different documents.
“I also take into account that she would have been very familiar with these types of documents given the work she does and that in my view is very clearly an aggravating factor.”
Shah was placed on unconditional bail.
The judge told Shah: “I would advise you I’m keeping all sentencing options open, including committal to the crown court, I’m not ruling out any option.”
The prosecution was brought by Barnet Council who are applying for £5,064.29 costs to be awarded.
She will be sentenced on June 8, 2023.
The elderly couple, Angela and Christopher Cole, hit out at Shah for her elaborate fraud.
Angela said: “She is totally unscrupulous. This woman was training to become a lawyer, I understand – but I’d never trust a woman like that to sell my house.
“This should not be allowed to happen. It was me who raised the alarm.
“I heard this kind of thing goes on everywhere but you can’t have people cheating the system like this. This has been turned into a sensation.”