Barristers from No5 Barristers’ Chambers are prosecuting a £1m benefits fraud ring at Wolverhampton Crown Court.

Harpreet Sandhu is leading Simon Hunka in the prosecution of a criminal gang who hatched a conspiracy to defraud through a sham maternity allowance racket.

The gang made at least 165 fake applications for the benefit pay out in four years, Mr Sandhu told the jury. He said around £450,000 was paid into the bank accounts controlled or used by 15 people involved in the racket.

Other attempts made by them were identified as frauds by Department of Work and Pension (DWP) officials and not paid.

The jury heard this week that the alleged ring leader of the gang, Henry Baza, has escaped justice by fleeing the country.

Mr Sandhu told the court: “He was interviewed by investigators but, before he could be charged, fled the country. It may be that he is now in Malawi.

“We don’t know where he is but he is not here to stand trial with the other defendants. This gives his co-conspirators every opportunity to blame him.”

The accused are: Emek Chukwurah, 52, from Barringer Square, Wandsworth; Tiwone Dokowe, 36, Mansion Crescent, Smethwick; Patient Kanjira, 19, Mansion Crescent, Smethwick; Tapiwa Madziwa, 37, Rightwell East, Peterborough; Tinashe Sagomba, 37, Dereham Road, Thetford; Poula Chikuhwa, 26, Weston Drive, Bilston; Clemence Marijeni, 44, Weston Road, Bilston; Casper Mawoko, 35, Fullerton Close, Pendeford; Laura Baza, 29, Ledbury Walk, Cottesmore, Oakham; Faith Tagarira, 20, Chapel Street, Bilston; Todd Tagarira, 39, Chapel Street, Bilston; Kudakwashe Mhembere, 36, Chapel Street, Bilston; Liberty Masunda, 44, Mapleton Road, Hall Green and Walusungu Ngwira, 38, Milton Road, Bilston.

All deny conspiring together with Henry Baza to defraud the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions by applying for and, or, receiving maternity allowance payment to which they were not entitled between May 4 2011 and August 28 2015.

The trial continues and is expected to last several weeks.

Follow the link to read a report of the trial so far on the Express and Star’s website: