Inquiry into ex-Network Rail boss nears end

Iain Coucher is expected to be exonerated over serious financial impropriety, but could face flak

The investigation into the financial practices of Iain Coucher, the former boss of taxpayer-backed Network Rail, is expected to conclude in the next two to three weeks.

It is widely expected that Mr Coucher will be exonerated over serious financial impropriety, though he might be criticised over the human resources practices under his tenure.

Antony White, a leading QC and a colleague of Cherie Booth at Matrix Chambers, has spent months interviewing witnesses and asset tracing to prepare his report into the financial affairs of Mr Coucher.

An internal investigation by the big four accountant PricewaterhouseCoopers has already cleared Mr Coucher, who was chief executive from 2007 to 2010, of any wrongdoing. The allegations are of misuse of public money – for example, Mr Coucher and his business partner, Victoria Pender, receiving £180,000 for unspecified services to Network Rail.

He was also accused of living "a James Bond lifestyle", using his vehicle allowance to pay for the running of his Aston Martin.

A former colleague of Mr Coucher was quick to defend the criticisms of his expenses. "There's this suggestion of excess," he said. "It does not look good, but this is really a matter of tone and taste. Iain has also essentially been accused of fraud. This is serious, nasty stuff but I've been through all of the accounts and I'm very confident that he's innocent."

The HR issues include using public money to pay off aggrieved staff before they went to tribunal. There are also reported to be allegations of sexual harassment.

Network Rail, which is now headed by London 2012 Olympics builder David Higgins, could do with a positive report. Last week it was fined £3m over the Potters Bar derailment, finally drawing to a close the fallout from a crash that happened nine years ago.

Jarvis, the maintenance contractor at the time, has long been accused of being at fault for the disaster in Hertfordshire, which killed seven people. However, the now-defunct company was working to a safety regime established by Railtrack, Network Rail's predecessor body.

Jarvis was also initially charged in this court case, which was brought by the Office of Rail Regulation earlier this year. However, this charge was dropped in March as Jarvis is now in administration, so there was virtually no chance of any fine being paid out.

Former senior executives at Jarvis are known to be pleased that Network Rail has finally been sanctioned over the derailment. Many executives felt that the company had unfairly taken the brunt of the criticism over the years.

Network Rail is expected to trim parts of its maintenance budget to cover the fine. Mr Coucher did not put a provision in Network Rail's accounts to allow for any potential legal case and resulting fine.

In 2005, British Transport Police concluded that there was little chance of a successful prosecution ever being made, which was part of Mr Coucher's defence for not preparing the accounts in case of a fine. However, if Jarvis ever ended up in the dock it was always likely that Network Rail would join the company there, as it had established the safety rules.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Bianca Miller in the final of The Apprentice
tvMark Wright and Bianca Miller fight for Lord Sugar's investment
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Carlton Senior Appointments: Private Banking Manager - Intl Bank - Los Angeles

$200 - $350 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: Managing Producer – Office...

Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advisor – Ind Advisory Firm

$125 - $225 per annum: Carlton Senior Appointments: San Fran - Investment Advi...

Sheridan Maine: Commercial Finance Manager

Up to £70,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Sheridan Maine: Regulatory Reporting Accountant

Up to £65,000 per annum + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accoun...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick