Fraud investigation into Watton Town Council finances finds ‘no evidence of criminal activity’

Wayland Hall, home to Watton Town Council. Photographer: Graham CorneyCopy: Ian Clarke© EDP pics 20

Wayland Hall, home to Watton Town Council. Photographer: Graham CorneyCopy: Ian Clarke© EDP pics 2004 Tel: 01603 772434Contact: - Credit: Archant Ltd.

Claims of possible fraud in a town council's finances have been flushed away after it was found to have been caused by confusion over funds provided to run a public toilet.

Former Watton town councillors raised concerns about an apparent £131,000 hole in the council's budget, and a fraud and financial investigator from Suffolk Police was called in to review its accounts.

However, after crunching the numbers he found the error had occurred due to incorrect recording of information about money given to the town council to provide a public toilet, and concluded there was 'no evidence of criminal conduct'.

In his report, investigator DC Mark Emsden said he was called after former councillors Ken Birch and John Rogers raised concerns about the way the council's funds had been handled.

While examining its reserve accounts and 'ring-fenced monies', DC Emsden was informed the council had been given £250,000 in 2010 to facilitate the running of a public toilet.

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DC Emsden found the remainder of this funding – £131,158 – had been incorrectly added to the council's ring-fenced monies by a previous clerk, boosting its total on paper from £161,392 to £292,550.

Mr Birch and Mr Rogers voiced concerns after being told by the current clerk that the ring-fenced budget was nowhere near that figure, leading the men to assume money had gone missing.

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In his report, DC Emsden concluded that the figures had been corrected by the current clerk, adding: 'I am satisfied that there has been no criminal act and this is a simple case of a mistake which has led to a number of assumptions being incorrectly drawn.'

Stan Hebborn, vice chairman of the council, said: 'Now we are able to draw a line under this knowing that there have been no irregularities.

'We took every step we should have to identify what had gone wrong.'

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