Concern over fraud risk at funds office: Staff under suspicion as police fail to catch culprit responsible for forging documents

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Indy Politics
A FRAUDSTER is at large inside the Court Funds Office - the body that manages cash paid into court on behalf of children, mental patients and people suing each other - despite an intensive police investigation lasting two years.

Police are still investigating at least nine cases of attempted fraud at the office, which takes in almost pounds 1bn a year on behalf of 126,000 people. A member of staff is suspected of forging payment documents - although, so far, he or she has only been successful on one occasion, stealing pounds 60,000.

Inquiries are concentrating on the 600 people who work for the Court Funds Office and its parent, the Public Trusts Office. Documents have been sent to forensic experts for examination and staff members have been interviewed but the culprit has not been identified.

Sir John Bourn, the Comptroller and Auditor General, said in a report yesterday that he was worried the fraudster was still on the office's payroll: 'There must remain an unavoidable risk and continuing concern because of the nature and complexity of the work of the Court Funds Office - and particularly because there is insufficient evidence to identify the perpetrators and anyone who may have helped them.'

Between 1988 and 1992, Sir John said, 'there were 54 identified cases of fraud or attempted fraud' at the Court Funds Office. Until 1991, almost all of them were minor - for sums of less than pounds 5,000 - and largely involved cheques being stolen on their way to and from the office. In most cases, the theft was discovered and the money recovered, but pounds 32,000 did go missing and had to be reimbursed from public funds.

In 1991, however, Sir John said, the thefts became much more sophisticated, and a further pounds 60,000 was lost. The sums involved were greater and internal documents were being forged. Police and outside consultants were called in to examine four suspected cases totalling about pounds 800,000. They identified five more, involving pounds 134,000.

The fraudster's lone success came when a cheque made out to a firm of solicitors was intercepted and cashed. Sir John said: 'The cheque might have been stolen by or with the assistance of a member of staff, but again the person was not identified.'

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