Exclusive: Keighley Council hit by fraud probe months after damning audit

MP Kris Hopkins
MP Kris Hopkins
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A YORKSHIRE council previously criticised for “reckless” spending is now at the centre of a fraud investigation, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.

A police unit that investigates fraud and corruption in the public and private sectors recently interviewed a woman under caution as part of a long-running probe into embattled Keighley Town Council.

West Yorkshire Police’s Economic Crime Unit has been looking into potential criminality at the council for six months but this has now developed into a fraud probe, police have confirmed.

The investigation was launched in December after the town’s MP Kris Hopkins called on the Force to step in after an damning audit report revealed a catalogue of poor governance and questionable spending relating to the 2012/13 accounts.

Last year Mr Hopkins called the council’s spending “reckless” after the audit revealed a £1.1m business plan to develop a new civic centre was based on a weak business case.

Yesterday West Yorkshire Police confirmed it is now investigating allegations of fraud.

Ramona Senior, head of West Yorkshire Police’s Economic Crime Unit, said: “Following matters raised by Mr Hopkins, we can now confirm we are investigating allegations of fraud.

“One person has been interviewed under caution and our enquiries are continuing.”

Mr Hopkins told The Yorkshire Post he was reassured that the police were treating the matters, which he had raised, seriously.

The Conservative MP said: “I’m glad the police have taken it seriously. Many people in the town have been dismayed by what’s gone on in the past.

“What’s important, having asked the police to look into this, is for me, as a politician, to let them get on with it.”

He said it was important not to judge where the police investigation might lead.

“It’s important that it’s looked into. I don’t want to pre-empt the outcome of the investigation. I have confidence that the police will make those inquiries and come to a reasonable decision at the end.

“Justice, if it needs to be done, will be.”

He said many people on the council were “embarrassed” by what had happened in the past but he was confident the new leadership team at the authority was now making sensible decisions.

He praised new mayor, Councillor Javaid Akhtar, and deputy, Councillor Gary Pedley, saying he believed the council had “turned a corner” in the last month or so.

“The new mayor and deputy mayor are people we can have confidence in.

“I met the mayor last week. His desire to be open and transparent and to face up to the issues and reputational damage gave me lots of confidence.”

Councillor Pedley said: “Fraud is quite a strong allegation. I would be surprised if fraud has taken place. Mismanagement, yes.

“If they come up with concrete evidence of fraud if needs dealing with. I would be very surprised if anyone has been fraudulent.”

THE fraud probe comes 10 months after a council employee warned colleagues its failure to comply with financial regulations was so serious it was “bordering on the line of corruption.”

In an email, the employee claimed that family, friends and relatives of officers and councillors were using public funds for their own interests.

In November an audit highlighted questionable spending in 2012 including overpayments to a contractor who was paid despite not meeting commission targets, the purchase by the council of two horses, both later sold at a loss and the purchase of Christmas lights for £3,000 without proper authorisation.