Royal Academy of Music director Janet Whitehouse jailed for fraud

Finance chief who abused position to siphon off £236,000 from institution sentenced to 20 months

She had a prestigious position at one of Britain's premier arts institutions, a six-figure salary and a string of properties across London, but that was not enough for Janet Whitehouse.

As finance director of the 190-year-old Royal Academy of Music, Whitehouse was credited with pulling the institution out of the financial mire in the mid-1990s. But apparently piqued by a lack of recognition for her efforts, she embarked on four years of systematic deception, during which she cheated the charity of £236,000.

She fabricated paperwork to increase her pension fund by £100,000, secured rent-free accommodation for her son and submitted false invoices for more than £100,000, Southwark Crown Court heard yesterday. Last night, she exchanged her penthouse flat by the River Thames for a cell as she was jailed for 20 months for defrauding the country's oldest conservatoire and misleading its eminent governing body, which included the soprano Lesley Garrett and the economist Sir Howard Davies.

Whitehouse, who worked at the academy for nearly 20 years, had close relationships with members of the body including Lord Burns, the chairman of the Academy. The former Treasury mandarin and newly appointed non-executive member of the Office for Budget Responsibility was said to be devastated by Whitehouse's betrayal.

Her crimes were only uncovered during an audit after the Academy was found to have been affected by another, separate, alleged fraud. Suppliers were contacted for help during the audit but one, Whiteley Associates, failed to respond. It was later revealed that Whitehouse was a director of the company, which had submitted a series of false invoices.

She then tried to persuade two fellow workers at the Academy to help doctor her files to try to cover up the crimes. "Jan Whitehouse... has abused her position and taken advantage of the faith placed in her by her friends and colleagues at the Academy," said Detective Inspector Andrew Fleming, of the Metropolitan Police's economic and complex crime unit.

The Academy, founded in 1822, trains nearly 700 students from more than 50 countries. Its list of alumni includes Dame Evelyn Glennie, the conductor Henry Wood and Annie Lennox. Sir Elton John is its vice-president.

Whitehouse, a mother-of-two, wept in the dock as she was sentenced for three counts of fraud. The court heard that she had paid back all of the money that she had taken.

Judge Deborah Taylor said: "It's never pleasant to sentence someone of your obvious qualities and ability who has suffered such a fall from grace."

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