Waveney: �37,000 written off

MORE than �37,000 paid into council car-parking meters in the Waveney district vanished without trace and had to be written off, a report has revealed.

MORE than �37,000 paid into council car-parking meters in the Waveney district vanished without trace and had to be written off, a report has revealed.

Grave concerns about the missing money from Waveney District Council's bank account were raised publicly last spring but further details have now emerged, sparking renewed calls for a fresh investigation.

The report reveals how two collections of car park cash, totalling �37,583.21, had not appeared on the council's bank balance, despite evidence showing it was collected by security guards from the cash office at Lowestoft Town Hall.

The report states: "The money was to have been banked via delivery to a coin centre used by the security company. Whilst the security company claims they did deliver the money, the coin centre and the bank claim that no delivery was made and hence no credit was subsequently made to the council's bank account.

"The discrepancy was followed up by council officers at the time. However, officers relied on the bank's investigations into the matter rather than carrying out their own.

"The issue was periodically raised with the bank over a lengthy period of time, but investigations by the bank failed to identify the whereabouts of the two collections."

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The identities of the security company, coin centre and bank were not revealed in the officers' report which was prepared for members of the council's audit committee.

Last year a police investigation into the missing money was launched but did not uncover evidence of a crime being committed.

Council bosses took the decision to write off the money, which went missing in 2003, and the report reveals legal advice said any effort to launch claims for the money from any of the other organisations would be "fraught with difficulty".

"The main difficulty being that, at the time of the incident, the matter was investigated and followed up through conversations with the bank, but was not documented in writing.

"This is also why a potential claim on the council's insurance has been refused," the report adds.

The document goes on to stress that the police investigation concluded that no council staff were under suspicion and that measures had now been taken to tighten up the authority's banking processes.

Malcolm Cherry, leader of the council's opposition Labour group, said: "The administration may feel this matter is closed, but there are still questions about where the money is.

"Just to push it to one side and accept the money has gone is not good enough. I will not be happy until the community of Waveney gets a solid answer."

Liberal Democrat group leader Andrew Shepherd said: "It just beggars belief and one wonders why the ombudsman hasn't been called in to see what the problem is."

A Waveney District Council spokesman said: "We have completed our investigations and are satisfied that we have taken this matter as far as we can."