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Fraudster who claimed family died in Grenfell Tower jailed for 21 months

The Guardian logo The Guardian 09/02/2018 Jamie Grierson
Anh Nhu Nguyen, left, meeting Prince Charles after the Grenfell Tower disaster. © PA Anh Nhu Nguyen, left, meeting Prince Charles after the Grenfell Tower disaster.

A serial fraudster has been jailed for 21 months after he pretended his wife and son were killed in the Grenfell Tower blaze in a “despicable” attempt to pocket £12,500 set aside for real victims of the disaster.

Anh Nhu Nguyen was pictured beside Prince Charles and gave TV interviews posing as a survivor of the disaster, in which 71 people died. He did not live there but at an address in south-east London.

He claimed his wife and son died, and posed as a victim for nearly two weeks, picking up about £12,500 from charities and Kensington and Chelsea council.

The 52-year-old pleaded guilty at Southwark crown court last year to two counts of fraud by false representation and one count of making an untrue statement for the purpose of obtaining a passport.

Nguyen, a British citizen born in Vietnam, was given a hotel room, clothing, food, electrical items and money. He was found to be lying when he gave several different flat numbers, some of which did not exist and one where a real victim lived.

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

Nguyen, who has lived in the UK since the 1980s, had 17 aliases.

Four days after the fire last June he had visited the Westway sports centre in north Kensington – where volunteers were helping survivors and setting up a refuge – and told people he lived in the block and that his family had died in the fire.

Slideshow: Six months after the Grenfell Tower fire (Provided by Reuters)

Charlotte Lomas, a Sky News correspondent, interviewed Nguyen on camera in the Holiday Inn room he had duped authorities into providing. 

Lomas, 35, part of Sky News’s regular team covering the fallout of the disaster, said the hotel room was crowded with boxes of donations given to him by charities, including shoes, clothes and medication.

He gave her a detailed story of how he fled the tower, tripping over bodies, and leaving his wife and son behind.

“It’s quite unnerving,” she said. “I didn’t think anyone would abuse that situation.

“I felt quite violated. I spoke to some of the volunteers and they felt the same. They were there trying to help people and someone has come in and abused them like that. It makes you question everything.”

The interview had not aired before it emerged Nguyen was a serial conman, and it was played in court at his sentencing.

“His answers were very elaborate, about how he was working as a chef in a Chinese restaurant in Soho, he’d got back late that night, his son and his wife were asleep,” Lomas said.

File photo dated 27/06/17 of the Prince of Wales meeting local residents, including Anh Nhu Nguyen (second left, dark shirt), during a visit to the Westway Sports Centre in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster in west London © Press Association File photo dated 27/06/17 of the Prince of Wales meeting local residents, including Anh Nhu Nguyen (second left, dark shirt), during a visit to the Westway Sports Centre in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster in west London He told her he could feel the fire and started to rip up towels and blankets, put them in cold water and place them against the door.

He then described deciding to leave with his wife and son, “stepping over bodies” as the family descended the stairs. When he reached the 11th floor, he said, his wife and son were no longer with him.

Lomas said: “I asked, ‘You turned round and couldn’t see them?’ and he said, ‘No, I had lost them’. I couldn’t believe it. It was so shocking.”

She presumed he had been told his wife and son had been identified and he was distraught, but then discovered he had been arrested for fraud.

“I was completely in dismay, that can’t be him,” she recalled. “Then I was actually quite angry … There were so many relatives. It was absolutely heartbreaking. It’s been the hardest story I’ve ever had to cover.”

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