Four face jail over £100k council fraud

Council manager Michael Skirving
Council manager Michael Skirving

A DISGRACED former council boss and three business pals have been told they will be jailed after pocketing more than £100,000 of taxpayers’ cash in an elaborate building scam.

Police have also vowed to claw back their ill-gotten gains after the quartet were found guilty of the con in which bogus invoices were put through council coffers.

Hartlepool man Michael Skirving, 50, who was head of Darlington Borough Council’s asbestos department, conspired with Martin Dougherty, 45, and James Burns 43, to create bogus invoices totalling £109,494.

A fourth man, Graeme Storey, 38, was convicted of attempting to pervert the course of justice after he lied to police that he had carried out work as part of the scam.

A jury took just hours to unanimously convict the shamed men.

The fraud saw Skirving put 15 invoices through the local authority for £75,754 which was paid to

Dougherty’s one-man firm MBN Roofing and Builders.

It was for labour said to have been done by the firm on jobs in Hartlepool, Billingham and Middlesbrough.

Burns, was paid £33,740 after submitting invoices for the hire of a cherry picker platform in connection with asbestos removal contracts in Owton Manor, Hartlepool, overseen by Skirving.

But the prosecution said the cherry picker was not necessary for asbestos removal and the platform and labour was not carried out to the extent the trio claimed.

Skirving, Dougherty and Burns were found guilty of conspiracy to defraud Darlington Borough Council between October 2007 and April 2009 after a five-week trial at Teesside Crown Court.

Judge Peter Armstrong said: “You have been convicted by the jury for fraud involving public money, as far as Darlington Borough Council is concerned, and you Storey of telling lies to the police to bolster that fraud.

“The amounts involved are serious and you can expect, I’m afraid, custodial sentences.”

The jury of eight women and four men returned unanimous guilty verdicts on all charges after around five hours of deliberation.

Skirving’s department had been awarded numerous contracts to remove asbestos as part of wider housing regeneration schemes across Teesside.

The trial heard how he told Burns and Dougherty what to invoice the council for in connection with lucrative contracts.

The prosecution said the fraud was conceived between the friends in the pub and on the golf course.

Prosecutor, Rosalind Scott Bell, said the money will attempt to be clawed back under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Skirving, of Grange Road, Burns, of Wansbeck Gardens, Dougherty, Westbrooke Avenue and Storey, of Hart Lane, all Hartlepool, will be sentenced in around three weeks time.

All four men were released on bail.

A spokesman for Darlington Borough Council said: “I can confirm that Michael Skirving worked for us and that he left of his own accord in 2009. It would be inappropriate to comment further.”

Durham Constabulary, which investigated the fraud, said it would not comment on the outcome of the trial until after the men had been sentenced.