University inquiry into expenses was misjudged

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An investigation into the expenses claimed by a jet-setting university vice-chancellor involved "errors of judgement", the Government's public spending watchdog said yesterday.

The National Audit Office found that Portsmouth University had not complied with good practice in its handling of allegations against Neil Merritt, who resigned as vice-chancellor in December, 1994. The university had incurred "significant costs" during its investigation launched 1993, including around pounds 140,000 for an independent inquiry. The NAO said there was no evidence that anyone involved in handling the investigation had acted improperly, but believed the university's audit committee had misjudged the seriousness of the vice-chancellor's actions because it did not involve the theft or the loss of university funds. It recommended that other universities learn lessons from Portsmouth's experience in setting procedures on handling misconduct for senior staff. It also called for the Department for Education and Employment to offer more guidance on the duties and responsibilities of governing bodies. Lucy Ward