Police investigate West Exe college saga
POLICE have launched a fraud investigation following a damning report which uncovered financial mismanagement at the city's largest school. A letter from Shaun Sawyer, chief constable of Devon and Cornwall Police, to Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw, confirmed officers are investigating whether any fraudulent activity had taken place at West Exe Technology College.
Mr Sawyer confirmed police investigations were running in conjunction with Devon County Council auditors and the Crown Prosecution Service.
County council officials informed police about issues raised in an internal audit report it conducted into the financial management of the school under the leadership of former executive head Steve Maddern and former chair of governors Paul Smith.
As previously reported by the Echo, the report criticised the close relationship between Mr Maddern and Mr Smith.
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It stated that Mr Maddern's "significantly higher than normal" salary of £156,000 came about after he, at the request of Mr Smith, produced what is described as "misleading" information with regard to national pay scales and potential pay rises.
The £86,000 salary of his wife Beverley, who was senior deputy headteacher, was also deemed excessive by auditors.
Mr and Mrs Maddern both resigned from their posts in the spring.
A police spokesman said no arrests had been made and enquiries were continuing.
As revealed by the Echo last month, the school's governing body, led by chair of governors Peter Scott, is seeking legal advice into whether any part of Mr and Mrs Maddern's salaries can be recovered.
The governors are also waiting to find out if their pensions can be adjusted.
Mr Scott confirmed this week that the board was still waiting to receive the advice.
Mr Bradshaw wrote to the police authority last month to enquire whether police were conducting any investigation at the school.
"This matter is about the protection of the public purse," he said.
"I wrote to the police due to my own concerns as well as concerns that had been raised to me by several of my constituents about what had happened at the school and the implications of what was found in the report. I welcome the fact police are taking it seriously because what went on at the school was in my view, serious and given the level of public concern, it's right and proper for the police to satisfy themselves that there are no grounds for prosecution."
In a letter to Mr Bradshaw earlier this month, county treasurer Mary Davis confirmed that the authority informed the police about issues raised in the auditors' report.
She said: "If police action leads to a successful prosecution and if it is considered appropriate, the police may apply for financial recompense through the Proceeds of Crime Act."
Ms Davis continued: "There are no immediate options to the council in terms of civil action or amending pension entitlement and it is not clear whether further, independent action by the council will be beneficial or successful and could just be a waste of resources if there is little chance of financial recompense."