A former pro vice-chancellor of Edge Hill University and his partner have both been jailed for five years for defrauding the institution of more than £500,000.
Robert Smedley, who was dean of education at the Lancashire institution, was found guilty of five counts of fraud at Liverpool Crown Court earlier this month. 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”, and had transferred about £200,000 of his fraudulent earnings into Smedley’s bank account. They spent the money on home improvements, including a luxury kitchen.
The offences took place between September 2009 and June 2014, and covered £513,894 of fraudulent earnings. Finance workers at the university became suspicious when an accountant noticed a large consultancy payment being made to the same bank account as a member of staff’s salary.
Following the sentencing, police said that Smedley had not conducted the adequate background checks on Joynson, claiming that they were not relevant to the role. Had they been carried out, they would have revealed that Joynson had previously received two police cautions for lying on previous job applications.
Smedley also failed to declare to his employers that he was in a relationship with Joynson when Joynson applied to work at Edge Hill. During the trial, the pair continued to protest that they were just friends.
Detective Constable David Wainwright, from Lancashire Constabulary’s economic crime unit, said that Smedley had “abused [his] 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,” Detective Constable Wainwright said. “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 which could have been put to much better use.”
The University and College Union previously said that it was “wholly inappropriate” for the university to portray itself as a victim and argued that “serious questions” had to be asked about how the fraud had been allowed to go on for so long.
An Edge Hill spokeswoman thanked for the police and Crown Prosecution Service for bringing the case to a “satisfactory conclusion”.
“Edge Hill University notes the decision of the jury and believes that the sentences handed down to Robert Smedley and Christopher Joynson demonstrate that justice has been done,” a university statement said. “The sum fraudulently obtained by these men had no impact on our students or the work of the university and has subsequently been recovered from our insurers.”
Smedley, 52, and Joynson, 34, are both of Frankby Road, West Kirby.