Former Edge Hill dean defrauded university of more than £500K

UCU says case highlights ‘serious questions’ over institution’s governance structures

October 20, 2017
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The former dean of education at Edge Hill University and his partner have been convicted of defrauding the institution of more than £500,000.

Robert Smedley, who was also pro vice-chancellor of the university, was found guilty of five counts of fraud at Liverpool Crown Court.

His partner Christopher Joynson, whom Smedley employed as the university’s professional development officer – a salaried post created for him – was convicted of four counts.

Police said that Joynson invoiced the university for “hours and hours of work that he had not undertaken, sharing the money with Smedley”.

They spent the money on home improvements, including a “luxury kitchen”, police added.

The alleged offences took place between September 2009 and June 2014, and covered £513,894 of fraudulent earnings. The couple had denied the charges.

Detective Constable David Wainwright, from Lancashire Police’s Economic Crime Unit, said: “I am pleased that the jury have seen through Smedley and Joynson’s lies and found them guilty.

“Smedley was a member of senior management and abused that position for personal gain. He deceived the university, in particular colleagues he had known for many years and employed Joynson, his lover, in a position that he had simply devised himself.

“The financial impact on the university – the innocent victim in all this – cannot be underestimated; between the pair of them, they managed to defraud Edge Hill of over half a million pounds.”

But University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said that “any attempt by the university to portray itself as the victim in this case would be wholly inappropriate”.

“This case highlights serious questions that the senior management of Edge Hill University have to answer over governance – something the UCU has raised concerns about in the past,” she said.

“The real victims are taxpayers, students and staff, and the whole sorry episode brutally exposes how a lack of transparency in universities can leave them vulnerable to fraud.

“Staff and students will want to know how this was allowed to happen. Why were there not the proper financial checks in place to stop it happening? How was someone paid a full salary and allowed to put in bills for consultancy work at the same time?

“The senior management of the university need to answer these questions and be held to account for such significant financial irregularities, which happened on their watch. They need to improve checks and balances and explain how decisions will be subject to greater and more transparent scrutiny in the future. We will be raising these points with them.”

Edge Hill University declined to comment until the pair have been sentenced.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com 

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