MPs lambast pounds 5m fraud case failure

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The Independent Online

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 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, 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 scheme was appalling, said the committee. MPs found it "unacceptable" that the Metropolitan Police could not prevent the fraud. They were "critical of the service for allowing an arrangement which could not safeguard public money" and "deplored" police failure to tell the Home Office about it.