Woolwich lined up replacement before chief quit

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The Independent Online
Donald Kirkham, the retired Woolwich chief executive, was called on to take the helm again two days before David Robinson, his successor, was ousted on Tuesday for alleged financial irregularities, it emerged yesterday.

Mr Kirkham was contacted on Sunday morning at his home by Sir Brian Jenkins, the Woolwich chairman, and told there was a possibility Mr Robinson, who was still on holiday in Barbados, might be required to resign.

The former chief executive indicated that he would be prepared to step back into his former role in the event of Mr Robinson's departure.

Two days later, in Mr Robinson's absence, a Woolwich board meeting was given details of the allegations concerning him, together with his replies. Mr Robinson resigned that afternoon and Mr Kirkham immediately stepped in as interim chief executive.

Details of Mr Robinson's departure emerged yesterday as the society moved to quell fears that its planned pounds 3bn de-mutualisation had been derailed by the events of the past week.

Sir Brian said: "We are still on course. This event has no effect on the business at all. The Woolwich is essentially the same today as it was a week ago.

"Our strategy and objectives are completely unchanged. We propose to move forward in exactly the same way as we have always intended."

Sir Brian, a former Lord mayor of London and top City accountant, said that in the aftermath of Mr Robinson's departure, meetings have been held with all senior staff to inform them of events and determine the way forward.

The mood was extremely positive, he claimed, and the flotation planned for August next year was still on course.

A permanent successor to Mr Robinson would be appointed "shortly". Sir Brian added: "We have been extremely encouraged at the very high quality of candidates, both internal and external, who have put their names forward in the past few days."

Mr Robinson's departure follows allegations that he misused society facilities, including work on the house and garden of his pounds 450,000 home in Brasted, Kent, and sanctioned the unauthorised use of a Land Rover for his family.

Sources claim that other unauthorised expenses may also have been incurred. Mr Robinson was able to sign off his own expense sheet, a situation described by one source as "not unusual" for senior executives in most corporations.

It is understood that an internal audit revealed that some of the questioned expenses took place prior to Mr Robinson's appointment as chief executive in January.

The internal audit was set in motion after several initially isolated matters seemed to form a pattern.

The auditor took his report to Maurice Crichton, a board member and chairman of the audit committee, before the weekend. Mr Crichton was sufficiently worried to contact Sir Brian at his home, in south-east London, on Saturday morning.

The chairman invited Lord Borrie and John fforde, two other board members, to a meeting at his house on Sunday, to hear the details. It was decided that Mr Robinson must be summoned to explain what had happened. Mr Kirkham was also contacted at his home. He is believed to have told Sir Brian: "Whatever you want me to do, I will of course do."

At Sir Brian's home on Monday, Mr Robinson was confronted with the allegations, in the presence of his lawyer and one from the Woolwich. He firmly denied all the allegations.