MPs lambast police over pounds 5m thefts by 'lord'

The Met under fire: Scotland Yard's image dented by triple blows of corruption, unlawful arrest and jury-nobbling cases
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Westminster Correspondent

Scotland Yard should have realised its accountant, Anthony Williams - convicted of stealing more than pounds 5m from police funds - was leading a life of luxury and had bought up a large slice of a village in the Scottish Highlands, an influential group of MPs concluded yesterday.

In a report that even by the standards of the often critical Commons Public Accounts Committee was especially hard-hitting, the Metropolitan Police was lambasted for not rumbling Mr Williams sooner.

He was convicted in May last year and sentenced to seven and a half years' imprisonment. A backroom civil servant at Scotland Yard he enjoyed a lifestyle way beyond his means. In London, he lived in suburban New Malden; in Tomintoul in Scotland, he was known as "Lord Williams" and went on a spectacular spending spree, acquiring the village's main hotel and several houses.

As a trusted official, Mr Williams was put in charge of the financing of a sensitive, one-off, undercover police operation. To combat serious crime and terrorism, the Independent has revealed, the police bought a spotter plane equipped with hi-tech surveillance equipment. To hide its ownership - and prevent suspects realising the aircraft overhead belonged to the police - they booked it through a private company, run by Williams.

He was in sole charge of handling the aircraft's running costs. When the pilot wanted cash for fuel, he asked Williams, who paid it from the company account. The company was then reimbursed by the Met, with no questions asked.

Such a unique scheme, with funding controlled by one individual, was appalling, said the committee. They found it "unacceptable" that the Met could not prevent the fraud, they were "critical of the service for allowing an arrangement which could not properly safeguard public money" and "deplored" the police's failure to tell the Home Office about a departure from standard practice.

Given the secrecy attached to the operation, MPs said they expected Mr Williams to have been positively vetted beforehand. If he had been, checks would have discovered that doubts had been raised about him in the past, when he ran the police's civilian staff welfare fund. An auditor had queried his management of the fund in 1988 but it was only in 1994, after he had finally been arrested for fraud, that an investigation revealed cash had gone missing.

To the embarrassment of the police he was caught only after a bank questioned the large amounts of cash going through his account. Since Mr Williams paid well over the market price for his properties, only pounds 1m of the pounds 5m he stole is ever likely to be recovered.