Sharife Elouahabi has been jailed for six years for falsely claiming over £100,000 from the disaster fund.
Elouahabi told authorities that he had been living with his uncle and family in the tower and claimed to be a member of the El-Wahabi family, five of whom had died in the fire. In reality, he had no connection to them at all. He also told authorities he had suffered constant nightmares, anxiety and weight loss because of the tragedy. Nine days after the fire, he approached Kensington and Chelsea council claiming he was the nephew of Mr El-Wahabi, who died alongside his wife and three children. He told council workers that on the night of the fire he had tried to get into the burning building to save his family, but had been held back by police officers.
Prosecutor Alexandra Felix told Isleworth Crown Court: “He said he had been staying at his uncles flat. He said he was left with no family, he said he lost his clothes and his laptop in the fire, and was losing weight rapidly. He said he would like money to get food and wants to be housed outside the borough because of the memories. He maintained that he suffered from anxiety and had trouble sleeping at night because he had constant nightmares. He claimed to be depressed because of what happened. He said he had tried to get into the building but police officers restrained him. We submit that this was a manipulative story plainly false designed to generate sympathy and to lend a degree of authenticity”.
In total Elouahabi claimed over £103,000 for financial assistance, accommodation and travel costs, but raised suspicions with his behaviour. He was due to receive a further resettlement payment worth £14,730 to go towards a flat and free utilities before the fraud was uncovered this June. Over the year, he was put up in hotels but it is believed he was living with his girlfriend at her flat in Kensington. Police tracked his mobile data which showed he spent the majority of his time there, police could not place his mobile phone signal in the area of the fire and could not find any sign of him on CCTV.
Elouahabi pled guilty to the fraud and has been sentenced to six years in prison. Judge Robin Johnson said: “The nation was shocked by this terrible event. In the aftermath of a tragedy, you sought to obtain a profit. There was significant planning.”
The judge also read part of a statement from El-Wahabi’s sister, which said: “In committing this fraud the defendant has taken from the community, public funds and resources meant for genuine victims.”
Mr Elouahabi’s legal team told the court he is “severely sorry” for his actions and is suffering from depression.
Damaris Lakin, senior crown prosecutor at the CPS, said: “Sharif Elouahabi knowingly misled the teams dealing with the tragedy of the Grenfell fire. He was provided with emergency accommodation for a year, and when his deceit was uncovered he tried to persuade a relative to lie for him. The relatives of the people who he said he had been staying with were forced to refute his claims, causing them extreme distress. We hope this late guilty plea goes some way to comforting them.”