Red-faced Hartlepool Council bosses admit taxpayers’ cash was used to pay off drug debt

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RED-FACED council bosses have admitted cash set aside to help steer young offenders away from a life of crime was used to pay off a client’s alleged drug debt.

A probe was launched at the end of January when the Mail revealed that money was used to pay off the debt by the local authority’s Youth Offending Service (YOS).

Cash was handed over to recover a TV set which had initially been bought by the YOS, only to be taken by the alleged drug dealer when the service user did not have enough money to clear what he owed.

The pot of cash is described as a Section 17 fund within the YOS, and is normally used to pay for items such as groceries or toiletries when an offender returns to the community from a custodial sentence.

When YOS staff were made aware of the missing TV set, arrangements were then made for it to be recovered and £20 was taken from the Section 17 money to pay off the debt.

Hartlepool Borough Council confirmed that the cash was given to the service user as a “loan” and has since been paid back.

It is understood the police had minimal involvement throughout the investigation, and no criminal charges have been brought.

However, the YOS worker who authorised the “loan” has been subject of an internal disciplinary procedure by council bosses, who have admitted the situation should never have happened and have pledged to tighten up procedures in the future.

Nobody was suspended during the duration of the investigation, and the council insists the matter is now closed.

A spokesman for Hartlepool Council said: “We concluded an investigation at the end of March into the alleged misuse of a small amount of petty cash within the Youth Offending Service

“We can confirm that £20 from petty cash was lent to one of our service users to recover a television which had been seized from the service user by a third party as part of an alleged debt.

“The television was recovered and the service user repaid the £20 loan.

“The loan should not have occurred and this has resulted in an internal disciplinary hearing. The matter is now closed.

“We have also undertaken a review of petty cash expenditure within the Youth Offending Service to ensure that our practices and procedures are robust.”

Staff from the service, which is housed within Hartlepool’s Middleton Grange Shopping Centre, provides support to youngsters at risk of offending as well as helping youngsters who are subject to the likes of community orders having been taken through the court system.

According to Hartlepool Council’s website, the YOS “is responsible for the prevention of offending and re-offending by Children & Young People. The Youth Offending Service is made up of representatives from a wide range of services including Children Services, Police, Probation, Health, Education and the local voluntary/community sector which enables the service to respond effectively to the needs of children and young people (including their broader families) who are at risk of offending or who are involved in offending behaviour”.