Town hall pledges fraud crackdown

Wigan Town Hall
Wigan Town Hall

COUNCIL chiefs have pledged a zero tolerance of fraud after a Wigan dinner lady stole £37,000 in canteen takings.

Kitchen supervisor Elizabeth Heaton escaped a jail sentence after admitting the theft while working at Rose Bridge High School, Ince.

A court heard the 45-year-old had turned to crime after she and her husband got into financial difficulties when the latter’s business collapsed and high interest loans got them into even deeper trouble.

Heaton, the court heard, had worked at Rose Bridge for 21 years and had been employed by MetroFresh, a department within the borough council whose services include catering.

Today the council issued a statement explaining how the crime was discovered.

It read: “In 2014 it came to light that there was a large discrepancy in the school meals income at one of the borough’s high schools.

“A swift and thorough investigation was undertaken by Metrofresh management supported by Wigan Council’s Internal Audit team. The kitchen supervisor at the school, who was an employee of Wigan Council, admitted to the theft of a significant amount of money and was immediately suspended from her duties.

“The kitchen supervisor subsequently resigned from her post.

“Wigan Council does not tolerate fraud and corruption of any kind and in line with the council’s Anti-Fraud Policy the matter was promptly referred to the police.”

And Coun Carl Sweeney, chairman of the council’s Audit, Governance and Improvement Review Committee, said: “Wigan Council is committed to protecting the public funds it administers.

“Wherever possible, investigating officers will ensure that losses from fraud are recovered.”

Sentencing her, Judge Robert Trevor-Jones said: “At the very least you stole in excess of £37,000 from your employer in the clearest breach of trust.

“Over many months you were dishonestly failing to bank the money concerned and failing to provide the necessary paperwork and were squirrelling the money away.

“I accept it was not used to fund an extravagant lifestyle but to stem debts and liabilities you and your husband had following the collapse of his business. I accept that was the catalyst.

“When the balloon went up and you knew there was to be an inspection of the school you went immediately to the school and employers and accepted sole responsibility,” he said.

Heaton, of Chatham Street, Leigh, was given a 10-month suspended sentence and ordered to carry out 240 hours’ unpaid work.

Amos Waldman, defending, said that she had been too embarrassed to discuss her debts and seek professional help.

After her husband’s business collapsed they lost their home and owed more money. She took out a loan at an “extortionate rate of interest and matters spiralled out of control.

She had hoped to get money from her husband’s pension fund but the investment collapsed and so it did not materialise.