Town men accused of £100k work scam

Left to right, Michael Skirving, James Burns, Martin Dougherty and Graeme Storey
Left to right, Michael Skirving, James Burns, Martin Dougherty and Graeme Storey

A COUNCIL boss is accused of fleecing an authority out of £100,000 by creating bogus invoices for equipment that was never delivered and work that was never done.

Michael Skirving, 50, is said to have conspired with his Hartlepool business friends Martin Dougherty, 45, and James Burns, 43, in an elaborate con of Darlington Borough Council.

Teesside Crown Court heard Skirving was a manager in the asbestos department at Darlington Council, that carries out specialist work across the region, when he is alleged to have put through false invoices for his pals.

Skirving is accused of emailing his friends with the details of lucrative jobs so they could falsify claims that he then signed off when they arrived at the council office.

He is also said to have put up Graeme Storey as a worker to try to prove that work had been done after he was arrested. But the court heard Storey is an alcoholic and could not give the details of what he had done and was never signed in on any of the sites.

Rosalind Scott Bell, prosecuting, told the jury: “It’s the Crown’s case that these men have defrauded Darlington Borough Council.

“It was cleverly done under the guise of authorised work and unfortunately for them their deceit has been unpicked despite their best efforts to throw the police off their scent.”

Through his James Print & Design firm, Burns is said to have been paid £33,740 for 46 invoices that all related to the supply of a cherry picker platform for work being done by the council in the Owton Manor area of the town through Housing Hartlepool.

But Mrs Scott Bell said no-one had seen it in the area when it was said to have been there, it was not needed for the asbestos-removal work and Burns’ company had no experience in providing such equipment.

The court heard Dougherty was paid for 15 invoices totalling £75,754 through his MBN Roofing & Builders firm for labour that he said he supplied for Skirving on jobs in Hartlepool, Billingham and Middlesbrough.

Skirving’s department had been removing asbestos from a range of properties and the invoices are said to tie in with those jobs.

But the court heard Dougherty admitted to police that he never supplied any workers and said he had been asked by Skirving to put in the false claims and had handed the cash back to Skirving, who he thought was “saving the council money”.

Mrs Scott Bell added: “He said he had trusted Mr Skirving. He thought what he was doing was authorised, presumably by the council, and he did not realise so much money had gone through his account.

“It’s the Crown’s case that Mr Dougherty knew exactly what he was doing. He was blatantly sending invoices to the council saying he had done particular jobs and had never even been to the sites despite the work being carried out in his name.

“He simply jumped on the bandwagon to make a buck for himself and to deceive the tax-paying public.

“They all must have known exactly what they were doing.

“They have been personal friends for years and years.”

Skirving, of Grange Road, Hartlepool, and Dougherty, of Westbrooke Avenue, Hartlepool, are accused of conspiracy to defraud the council between October 2007 and January 2009.

Skirving and Burns, of Wansbeck Gardens, Hartlepool, are charged with conspiracy to defraud the council between March 2008 and April 2009.

Storey, 38, of Hart Lane, Hartlepool, is accused of perverting the course of justice on May 21, 2010.

All the charges are denied.

The trial, which is expected to last three weeks, continues.