‘Lack of checks’ enabled �6,000 to be embezzled from parish council in Huntingdonshire

AN alleged lack of checks by a former parish council chairman saw nearly �6,000 of taxpayers’ money embezzled, according to a report into the crimes of a disgraced former parish clerk.

On Monday, at a meeting of Upwood and the Raveleys Parish Council, councillors revealed the conclusions of a report into Jane Haggar, the ex-clerk jailed for 12 months after admitting 30 counts of fraud by misrepresentation and one of theft by an employee.

The report, read to the meeting, claimed that David Paine, council chairman at the time of the thefts, would have “signed cheques, seemingly without checking their validity” – a claim Mr Paine refutes.

New chairman Councillor Robin Howe said that during an investigation “it became apparent that in addition to her monthly salary, Mrs Haggar had been inflating her monthly expense claims by ever-increasing amounts. The majority of the claims had insufficient supporting receipts.”

Cllr Howe said that in one instance Haggar had given Mr Paine a cheque to sign along with invoices from the grass cutter and, even though the cheque stub was made out to the contractor, the cheque was made payable to Haggar.

“The chairman, therefore, must have either signed a blank cheque or failed to ensure that the name on the stub matched the payee name on the cheque,” he said.

“The chairman also seems to have signed a cheque for an advance of salary to the clerk, which had not been authorised by the parish council.”

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Yesterday (Tuesday), Mr Paine told The Hunts Post the “report was biased and contained inaccuracies”.

“In my 30 years of business experience I know that signing blank cheques is something that doesn’t happen, maybe in the case of Enron, but the parish council is on a completely different level,” he said.

“Until I have read the report in full, I wish to make no further comment.”

The report said Mr Paine was not identified as a suspect in any criminal proceedings.

Last year, the council changed its procedures and has adopted new financial regulations, put all councillors through training, provided additional training for the chairman, and appointed an independent auditor and an experienced clerk.

Cllr Howe said: “This has been a sorry episode from which the parish council has not emerged well, and the council would like to express its sincere apologies to the residents for the circumstances surrounding the loss of parish council funds.”

Haggar, 49, of Malthouse Lane, Ramsey, was jailed at Huntingdon Crown Court on February 2. Her solicitor said she and her family were going through financial difficulties.