Detective guilty of expenses fraud

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The Independent Online

A Scotland Yard detective was today found guilty of using a force credit card to pay for a weekend stay in a luxury hotel with his wife.

Detective Constable Christopher Fernley, 42, used an American Express charge card issued by the Metropolitan Police to pay for two nights in the Yorkshire Dales while he and his wife attended a wedding party.

The jury of four men and eight women took just two hours and 18 minutes to find Fernley guilty of all five counts of false accounting at Southwark Crown Court.

He was released on bail by Judge Stephen Robbins, and will return to be sentenced on February 25.

The judge asked for a pre-sentence report, and for a summary of other convictions in which police officers used AmEx cards to swindle cash.

Fernley, who dealt with extradition cases for the specialist crime directorate, charged £746.80 to the card for his countryside break. The AmEx account was intended for police expenses incurred in the course of duty.

During the trial John Traversi, prosecuting, said it must have been "abundantly clear" to the officer that they were personal expenses and not legitimate police expenses.

Mr Traversi told the court that records showed Fernley used the AmEx card to pay for two nights at the Devonshire Arms Country House Hotel in Yorkshire over the August bank holiday in 2006.

But he said records of Fernley's hours showed he was on leave over the same period.

He told the court: "It must have been abundantly clear to DC Fernley, from the nature and amount of the expense, the occasion for which he incurred it, the presence of his wife, the character of the hotel, none of which can have slipped his mind, and from the information and documents that he had in his possession when he filled out the form on December 12 2007, that this was not legitimate police expenditure but personal expenditure.

"The entry on the 288 (form) was therefore false and he knew it. He claimed it as a legitimate police expense in the hope that the real nature of the spend would not be uncovered."

Fernley's AmEx statement also showed £71.62 spent at the Novotel Poitiers Futuroscope theme park in France, the court heard.

The prosecution said he had claimed the money as "overnight accommodation France" despite being on leave at the time.

Mr Traversi said the other transactions included £31.85 at a pub almost three hours after Fernley finished his shift, £85.50 at the National Liberal Club in central London when Fernley claimed to be in Staines, south west London, and £61.75 from an ATM at Tesco in Potters Bar, which the detective claimed was spent in Gatwick Airport.

After his expenditure was initially queried, Fernley handed a cheque for just over £1,000 to a detective inspector, the jury was told.

The court heard Fernley said he had made mistakes on his expenses forms because he was hung over from a Christmas lunch.

Mr Traversi said: "He admitted that he had also used the card for personal expenditure on a number of occasions, he said it was generally allowed but had to be paid back at the relevant opportunity."

He continued: "In relation to the events of December 11 and 12 2007, he said that he had been called into work following a Christmas lunch the previous day and ordered to complete his reconciliation of expenses.

"When asked about why he had entered personal expenditure as operational, he stated that he had made mistakes as he was hung over and felt under enormous pressure to complete the paperwork.

"He identified the mistakes, as he said they were, but denied any dishonesty in respect of the entries he had made on the forms."

Mr Traversi added: "It is the prosecution case that he knew the entries were false at the time he made them and that he only accepted that they were personal expenditure when challenged about them by senior officers."

Richard Atchley, defending, said after the verdict that his client will be dismissed through a "fast track" procedure from the police.

"He will be out of the job within a month," he said.