A COUNCIL employee has been sacked and another handed a final written warning following a major fraud investigation into the theft of fuel from two council depots in Northumberland.
The internal probe was launched almost a year ago after evidence was uncovered of the large-scale theft of about £75,000 worth of fuel kept at county council yards in Blyth and Stakeford.
The investigation was carried out by the authority’s audit and highways departments, and also looked into rumours that similar fuel fraud had been committed at other depots.
The investigation resulted in two members of the council’s staff being disciplined. One was dismissed and the other was given a formal written warning. A third employee who was also suspected of being involved in the fuel theft was subsequently dismissed for other reasons relating to gross misconduct.
The results of the probe have been reported to members of the authority’s audit committee, together with a range of measures which have been implemented to avoid a repeat of the incidents.
The investigation uncovered no evidence of fuel fraud at rural depots, but work is now being carried out to examine what security measures may be needed there.
It was launched three months after Northumbria Police issued a warning about the growing number of thefts of fuel from remote business parks, vehicle depots and industrial sites in Northumberland.
Insurance company NFU Mutual said there had been a significant rise in claims and payouts, with the North East being one of the worst areas of the country for fuel theft.
The report to the council’s audit committee said action has been taken by operational teams, service managers and fleet bosses to avoid a repeat of fuel thefts from depots.
This includes CCTV coverage being introduced for the fuel pumps at the Blyth depot, and existing cameras upgraded at Stakeford.
All employee PIN numbers have been re-issued, all keys fobs returned and reissued to ensure they are linked to the correct vehicle and staff given written instructions for the security of their PINs and fobs.
The only outstanding measure is to formally review security and procedures at rural depots.
Yesterday audit committee chairman Coun Terry Robson said the investigation had involved a very substantial quantity of fuel.
“The committee looked at this was of our concerns, and because we wanted to reassure ourselves that proper steps have been taken at all council depots regarding management, control and security of fuel.
“We were assured and satisfied that proper procedures are now in place, and the officers said they will take on board other suggestions made at the meeting.”
Coun Robson said the matter would be reported to Northumbria Police.