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'Serious mismanagement' at RAF Honington allowed fraudster to steal £70k from mess charities

PUBLISHED: 10:46 28 June 2019 | UPDATED: 15:38 28 June 2019

RAF Honington - Barnham Camp.

RAF Honington - Barnham Camp.

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An inquiry into fraud at RAF Honington has found "serious mismanagement" allowed a fraudster to help herself to cash and cheques for charity.

In 2016, former messclerk Zowie Davis was jailed for 18 months after stealing more than £70,000 from two mess charities at the site.

The Charity Commission subsequently established a class inquiry into all RAF mess charities, which has now published its findings.

It found there were "serious governance and management failures and an ineffective application of basic safeguards" at RAF Honington which allowed Davis to use charity funds over a "sustained period".

"This failure amounts to serious mismanagement in the administration of the RAF Honington mess charities," they added.

The Commission reported they had engaged with the RAF in 2012/13 over financial controls and were assured charity assets were protected.

But after the RAF opened its own inquiry into lost funds in 2016, they discovered losses of more than £200,00 over four years.

The Commission's inquiry concluded that:

- Charity funds at RAF Honington were placed at undue risk by serious failures over a sustained period to ensure that basic financial controls were followed.

- There was a failure to ensure that accounting records were maintained and preserved, which compromised the ability to effectively manage and account for the charity funds at RAF Honington.

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- Although the fraud was reported to the civil and military police when it was discovered in 2014, other reasonable steps were not taken in a timely manner at RAF Honington, or more widely across the RAF mess fund estate to address the risk and issues arising from the fraud.

They added there was a "confusion of responsibilities" for mess funds during a switchover of contracts, which led to the delay in identifying Davis' fraud.

Between February 2012 and October 2014, Davis had failed to keep proper records in her role as mess clerk for the officers' and sergeants' messes and the accounts became overdrawn. Managers launched an investigation after blank cheque stubs were discovered and cash could not be accounted for.

Davis was suspended from her job in October 2014 and tendered her resignation by email the next day.

"Since 2016 the RAF has made good the losses to charity funds via the contractor and HM Treasury," the Commission said. "The RAF has also acted to address the local issues at Honington and the broader systematic risks identified."

Harvey Grenville, Head of Investigations and Enforcement at the Charity Commission, said:

"Charity trustees are under a legal duty to protect their charitable funds, so they can be used to advance the charitable causes they set out to serve.

"The RAF failed to adequately protect the funds at RAF Honington, thereby allowing an unscrupulous individual to steal significant sums from the mess charities over a sustained period of time.

"The fraud was so significant for these mess charities that it left them in a precarious financial position which could have resulted in their collapse and had a direct impact on serving RAF personnel. It also exposed wider failures in the control and assurance systems used by the RAF.

"It should not have taken a Charity Commission class inquiry to mobilise an appropriate response from the RAF to address these issues and correct this situation.

"We have stressed to the RAF the importance of ensuring that it maintains a sustainable governance, assurance and risk management framework for charity funds linked to its RAF stations."

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