Police staff 'stole money from dead people': Audit uncovers thefts within West Midlands force. Marianne Macdonald reports

WEST MIDLANDS Police staff have been disciplined for stealing cash belonging to dead people, an internal report has disclosed.

Confiscated and forged money had also been stolen within the force, an internal audit found. Corruption extended to the theft of fine payments and cash handed in as found.

The revelations in the report, to go before the West Midlands police authority on Thursday, are to be the subject of an inquiry.

Lionel Jones, the authority's chairman, said yesterday: 'I will want to know how many staff are involved in this and how many corpses.'

The report refers to property confiscated by the force which has been 'misused' and fines which have disappeared. No details are given of the amount of cash and property stolen or the number of cases involved.

The audit for the last financial year says the offences came to light during spot checks and admits that an unspecified number of staff have been disciplined.

It recommends the stolen goods should be recovered from the guilty staff or claimed on the authority's insurance and calls for 'improvements' in supervision.

It is thought the thefts took place in police stations or coroners' offices. The report highlights the four 'most significant' areas of fraud:

The theft of fines and cash handed in as found.

The theft of money from dead people.

Misuse of detained property.

Theft of Imprest money (police funds, often used to reimburse officers for expenses).

Concern is also voiced that property officers in the force did not look after lost property with enough care. The report found storage facilities 'inadequate' and condemned 'a distinct lack of supervision of Property Officers'. But it concludes: 'In general terms, the financial control procedures throughout the police service have operated satisfactorily.'

Mr Jones said he was very concerned about the 'discrepancies' found by auditors. He was unable to say whether police officers or civilian staff in the 10,000-strong force were responsible. He added that the force was in the process of upgrading its lost and stolen property storage facilities at its 72 stations.

Robin Corbett, MP for Erdington and a former Labour home affairs spokesman, called for the guilty staff to be dismissed. 'I want to know why they have not been brought before the courts,' he said.

The latest findings follow the evidence of corruption revealed by investigations into the now-disbanded West Midlands Serious Crime Squad which led to the imprisonment of the Birmingham Six, falsely convicted of the 1974 pub bombings.

The squad was disbanded in August 1989 after a series of trials collapsed amid allegations that officers had fabricated evidence. Officers were guilty of improperly conducting interviews, incorrectly compiling pocket books and of massive overtime claims, according to a two-year investigation by West Yorkshire Police.

Fourteen people have had their convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal because of discrepancies in evidence presented by the squad.