Derby News Comment

Silverhill Primary School ‘£3000’ theft: a cover up, incompetence and the ‘uncomfortable truth’

Last week, Sarah Lloyd, who had been Treasurer, and then Chair, of the Silverhill Primary School Parent, Teachers and Friends Association (PTFA), based in Mickleover, pleaded guilty to the theft of nearly £3000, and not guilty to the charge of  “using a false instrument with intent”. Whilst little detail was reported in Court, there is more to the story than just stolen money!

The Silverhill PTFA is a registered charity, the President is Kate Nash, who is also the Head of Silverhill Primary School, and, since June 2015, has been an OFSTED Inspector. Jason Coupland, the Business Manager for the School, is a member of the committee, and a finance professional.

The PTFA is a small concern, run by volunteers, with average annual net income of around £3000. There were 30-50 transactions per year, recorded in the books by the Treasurer; each year they were handed to an Independent Accountant/Auditor to prepare the 1 page Income and Expenditure Statement, and formally undertake an audit.

When did the problems start to arise….?

Everything seemed to be running smoothly in the PTFA until September 2014 when the incumbent Chair wanted to stand down. The Treasurer at the time was  Sarah Lloyd who agreed to become joint Chair with her husband, Steve. Another member of the committee agreed to be Treasurer. In normal circumstances, the outgoing Treasurer would hand over all of the books as soon as possible.

This did not happen.

By June 2015, the new Treasurer was struggling to make sense of the bits of information that she had been given. Unusual deposits made by Sarah Lloyd, under-bankings from fund-raising events, no audited accounts for the year to 31st March 2014, other irregularities and the continuing reticence of Sarah Lloyd to make all historic accounting documentation available. Any contact with the Independent Accountant/Auditor, Janet Noon, had to be channelled through Sarah Lloyd.

This situation was referred to the PTFA Committee, including Kate Nash and Jason Coupland.

In a meeting in November 2015, it was reported that the co-Chair (Sarah Lloyd’s husband) confirmed that the accounts for the year to 31st March 2015  “were ok, and no discrepancies were found”

No substantial action was taken by the Committee from June 2015 until, at the PTFA Committee meeting on 10th March 2016, (my insertions in [ ] for clarity)

“On further inspection of accounts note that discrepancy [£2850] appears in 2013/14, and 2014/15 accounts also.

Independent accountant [Janet Noon] as used by PTFA has failed to notice this when checking accounts.

Agree accounts need to be checked further by qualified accountant that is totally independent of the school

Agree to move away from old accountant and secure new accountant”

[Note: The opening reserves/cash figure in the 2015 accounts is £2850 lower than the corresponding closing figure in the 2014 accounts – they should be the same. This is a clear pointer to a loss of cash]

The following month at the PFTA committee:

“Jason [Coupland] has spent more time looking at the accounts, and whilst there are some smaller errors, he has pinpointed three main areas we need to look into further. These are cash withdrawals over the counter in May and June 2014 totalling £900, and money raised from Christmas 2014”

..later in the meeting, further errors were attributable to Janet Noon:

“…as there had been an error by the external accountant in which she had accounted for a purchase of approx £1700 twice”

Coupland in a desperate attempt to find the missing money, without appreciating that the problem lay elsewhere:

“Jason has requested the shed be tidied out just in case any money has accidentally been put back in there”

At the AGM in May 2016 ( nearly a year after the initial concerns were notified), it was reported that money was missing from events in 2013, and 2014,

“Jason will contact these members to see if they have any recollection of the finances.”

…and then in conclusion

“Plan- await information from accountant [Janet Noon] , await feedback from Jason speaking to previous members, and await cheques from bank. Once all received, and if no light shed….forward the details of the accounts to the Charity Commissioner and Police if necessary”

It has been reported that Coupland was still of the impression that the differences were due to accounting errors, misplaced cash, and the failings of the Independent Accountant/Auditor, Janet Noon and that the discrepancy should be written off.

When Coupland finally spoke to Janet Noon in June 2016, it became apparent that she had not prepared / audited the accounts since 2012. It was at this point that the Police , and Charity Commission were informed as Ms Noon’s signature had also been forged on the accounts over the last 3 years.

Sarah Lloyd, who had been Chair of the PTFA throughout this period, was removed from her position.

Official position

The following questions were asked of the school management ( Kate Nash and Jason Coupland), via Derby City Council Press Office, by Derby News:

“You were advised of unexplained transactions , books that didn’t balance, and lack of availability of important information in June 2015. Why did you take no action to investigate this with Sarah Lloyd, immediately, and close out all concerns? Why did you wait 12 months before it was reported to the Police?

Why in June 2016, when you were shown compelling evidence that monies were misappropriated, and that there was an unexplained significant difference in the published accounts for the year ended 31 March 2015, did you suggest that the difference should be written off, and not investigated?

What prompted you to contact Janet Noon in June 2016 and ask her whether she had audited the accounts for the year ended 31 March 2015?”

The response was:

“Of course we are extremely disappointed that this has happened.

We immediately began an internal investigation in 2015, when we were made aware of the
unexplained transactions. This involved speaking to our legal team, and subsequently
external auditors, the Charities Commission, and the police who have been investigating the
issue since.

As this has been an ongoing police investigation, we have been unable to comment thus
far.

As a consequence of this matter we have already implemented additional safeguards to
ensure there is greater financial rigour and have requested that following the police
investigation the full amount is paid back to the Silverhill Primary School PTFA.”

Comment

The PTFA is a very small concern ; with so few transactions it would have been well within the capability of anyone with basic analytical skills and a spreadsheet to have got to the bottom of this within a day or two.

The fact that Sarah Lloyd:

  • continually delayed handing over the books of account to the new Treasurer for 15 months
  • could not explain missing money from the books that she maintained
  • had not presented any accounts for 31st March 2014 by June 2015
  • insisted on being the link between the Committee and Independent Accountant/Auditor

…should have raised alarm bells!

Had Jason Coupland, the Business Manager, with a finance background, contacted Ms Noon, immediately, rather than condemn her in her absence,  the fraud would have been identified much sooner.

The official response implies that prompt and decisive action was taken when the original problem was highlighted in June 2015. The facts don’t bear this out at all. The PTFA minutes from this period have been removed from the website which would highlight to all interested parents the lack of action taken on this serious issue. ( Note: The school has newsletters on its website from 2008)

The whole case was delayed by a further 12 months as the Police did not conclude on this case, promptly.

Conclusion

In the end, Sarah Lloyd admitted to the theft of the money, an amount which would have taken the PTFA and the community a year to raise, that deprived the children at the school of valuable, additional, equipment. This was covered up by the forging of the Independent Auditor’s signature.

Whilst this was an organisation run by volunteers it was a registered charity and therefore had the rewards of that status; the committee members, as trustees, had legal duties to protect the money. However it clearly did not have the basic financial controls and procedures in place to prevent theft and fraud….nor to competently, analyse and deal with the problem once identified.

Whilst people in such groups as the Silverhill PTFA may be friends/colleagues this should never override their legal responsibilities as Charity trustees. It seems that, in this case, personal relationships clouded people’s judgments to the extent that it ultimately disadvantaged the very children that they were in office to help.

….and why weren’t the School’s management professionals, who were members of the PTFA committee, more proactive and decisive…was it that they just did not want to accept the “uncomfortable truth” of who was the most obvious suspect in this whole sorry matter?

Categories: Derby News Comment

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