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Questions on GBC’s Fraud Investigation Remain Unanswered

Published on: 27 Feb, 2024
Updated on: 28 Feb, 2024

By Martin Giles

Almost six months after council officers were suspended or sacked following the discovery of an £18.5 million overspend against housing maintenance contracts, the structure of the ensuing investigation and its progress remain unclear.

Several of the officers suspended or who had their contracts terminated have contacted The Guildford Dragon NEWS vehemently denying any wrongdoing.

See also: Council Leader Apologises to Tenants ‘Left in the Lurch’ by Fraud Investigation Delays

But it has been confirmed that Surrey Police has escalated its fraud investigation to a regional organised crime unit SEROCU (South East Regional Organised Crime Unit).

We asked the unit, which is based in Berkshire:

  • What is the criteria for cases to be passed to you?
  • When was it passed over?
  • Who is now leading the overall investigation (and is that for all aspects or just the criminal investigation)? Is it still the police?
  • Has Surrey Police any continuing role?
  • Have any suspects been identified and invited for interview, either under caution or not?
  • Have any individuals been arrested or charged in connection with the investigation?

But a spokesperson only responded: “Following initial enquiries by Surrey Police, the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit (SEROCU) is conducting an investigation into an allegation of fraud at Guildford Borough Council. The investigation is ongoing at this time.”

SEROCU’s website

According to SEROCU’s website, its Regional Fraud Team “provides a dedicated fraud capability which conducts investigations against Organised Crime Groups (OCGs) or individuals identified as being involved in high-level fraud activity impacting on the South East Region. The nature of the investigations is often complex, time-consuming and requires a high level of investigative expertise.

“They work closely with other ROCU [regional organised crime unit] capabilities and reactive fraud investigation resources including the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), City of London Police (CoLP), forces and other agencies to provide a comprehensive attack on fraud offending.

“The Regional Fraud Team will further disrupt OCG members by stripping them of their assets at the conclusion of the investigation.”

Guildford Borough Council were also asked a set of questions:

  • Please confirm which other agencies (apart from the police) have a role? As far as we understand the following agencies are involved (please say if any are not): GBC internal investigators (including Human Resources and Monitoring Officer (legal) roles); Reigate & Banstead District Council; Surrey County Council; independent investigators (at least one, a legal firm);
  • Please explain the role and responsibility of each agency, why there needs to be so many, who is paying for what, and how the overall investigation is structured?
  • Who within GBC oversees/monitors investigation progress? What role does the council leader play, if any?
  • Who is leading the non-criminal aspects of the investigation and who sets the investigation objectives?
  • Have any suspects been identified and invited for interview either under caution or not?
  • What work can the two directors who have “stepped back” still carry out? Can they still carry out their full roles at Waverley Borough Council?

Once again, ignoring many of the questions posed, a GBC spokesperson responded: “The South East Regional Organised Crime Unit is leading an investigation into potential criminal matters within our housing maintenance service.

“Guildford Borough Council and Reigate & Banstead Council officers are supporting the investigation. The situation is a very complex one and may take a considerable amount of time to resolve. As the investigation is ongoing, we’re unable to provide any further specific details at this time.

“We (Guildford Borough Council) are simultaneously undertaking an internal review of our governance framework in our housing service.  We’re working hard to ensure we continue to provide robust governance going forwards.

“The Joint Senior Staff Committee of Guildford Borough Council and Waverley Borough Council will be meeting on Thursday, 29 February to consider any further internal investigations that may be appropriate in respect of our officers.

“It is likely that an external law firm would be retained to conduct any such investigation. We’re unable to provide any further information regarding this as it’s essential that the integrity of any investigatory process is upheld.

“We are committed to maintaining a workplace of integrity and like any other employer and to be fair to all concerned, are not able to comment on ongoing individual employment issues.”

A very similar response was sent by the GBC monitoring officer, Susan Sale, to GBC councillors with the additional sentence: “Work is currently ongoing in terms of a revised structure and resourcing of the housing services team and I anticipate that Pedro Wrobel [the new CEO at GBC] or Michael Coughlin will provide an update as soon as they are able to.”

The Guildford Dragon understands that Michael Coughlin has been seconded to Guildford Borough Council from SCC to help cover the senior roles from which two directors have stepped back.

See: Senior Directors Step Back Following New Report on Fraud & Overspend Investigation


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Responses to Questions on GBC’s Fraud Investigation Remain Unanswered

  1. John Murray Reply

    February 28, 2024 at 7:15 am

    Well, the plot does thicken.

    A tough one for SEROCU no doubt but fairly straightforward compared with trying to decipher the 217 page GBC budget document with which our elected members were recently confronted.

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