Liberal Democrat councillors at a Sutton Council meeting applauded their leader, Ruth Dombey, after she admitted that she had no idea that one of her councillors had been defrauding a council-funded charity of thousands of pounds – even though her own mother is a trustee of an associated charity group.Dombey’s statement at the Civic Centre on Monday night may have unwittingly exposed her mother, Brenda Dombey, the treasurer of the Sutton Seniors’ Forum, to accusations that she has failed her duties by not reporting concerns about the financial mismanage- ment of a local charity for the elderly.
Dombey and chums at Sutton Council feature in the “Rotten Boroughs” section of Private Eye again this week, following the conviction of their LibDem colleague Alan Salter, who was a Sutton councillor but who resigned shortly before being arrested on fraud charges surrounding his handling of the finances of meals-on-wheels providers, Carshalton Association for the Elderly.
Salter pleaded guilty in Croydon Crown Court last month to defrauding CAE of £8,225, and is awaiting sentencing.
The extraordinary detail in this story is that, despite Salter being a trusted member of Ruth Dombey’s LibDems who control Sutton Council, his even being chair of the important scrutiny committee (oh, the irony), the council leader publicly maintains that she was ignorant of the dodgy goings on among the borough’s charities, although Brenda Dombey took over from Salter as treasurer of the Sutton Seniors’ Forum in February this year.Sources close to the council suggest that the reason for Salter being replaced as treasurer at Sutton Seniors’ Forum was because of mounting concerns and suspicions over the state of that organisation’s finances while under the care of someone who at the time was a LibDem councillor.
Both CAE and Sutton Seniors’ Forum have received thousands of pounds of public money from Sutton Council.
- CAE received £24,700 from Sutton Council in the year to March 2013 (the last year for which proper accounts have been filed). It had received grants of more than £48,000 in grants from the LibDem-controlled council in each of the preceding two years.
- Sutton Seniors’ Forum was formed in 1996 by Brenda Dombey as an umbrella organisation for the borough’s elderly groups, including CAE. In the past year, Sutton Seniors’ Forum has received more than £12,000 in donations and grants from Sutton Council – £6,000 from the Sutton Community Fund, which is administered by Ruth Dombey’s deputy leader, Simon Wales, and £6,250 from the Mayor’s charity.
Yet despite the council’s funding relationship with the bodies, the important role of one of her LibDem councillors in their financial management, and her own mother’s close interests in one of the charities, Ruth Dombey told a full meeting of Sutton Council this week that she was oblivious to the serious fraud taking place, as she made it her priority to distance herself and her local party from the scandal.
Reading from a prepared statement, Ruth Dombey told the council: “I became aware of rumours regarding Mr Salter’s behaviour over Spring Bank Holiday weekend May 29-30. At a meeting on Tuesday May 31, he denied any wrong-doing and assured me he would be able to resolve any misunderstanding. On Monday June 13 following accusations on Facebook, he resigned as a councillor. He was subsequently arrested, charged and has now pleaded guilty.
“Since his resignation Mr Salter has not represented the Liberal Democrats or Sutton Council. All council appointments were immediately forfeited, any others were held in a personal capacity. Since the council has learnt of his actions, it has contacted each organisation with which he was personally associated to see if there is any way in which the council can help.
“I am extremely disappointed by Mr Salter’s actions. Defrauding a charity that serves some of the most vulnerable people in our community is inexcusable, reprehensible and shameful.”
After her statement, Ruth Dombey was asked whether it was really believable that she and her mother had not discussed the mounting scandal until after Salter’s arrest.
“She said she never talked to her mother about SSF matters,” said Nick Mattey, the Wallington councillor who was expelled by the LibDems last year. “I was dumbfounded. The LibDems broke into applause.”
Mattey, who now sits on the council as an independent, and Sutton’s opposition Tory group are awaiting with interest the outcome of ongoing police investigations into the fraud, and a separate investigation by the Charity Commission.Mattey also suggests that if Brenda Dombey really did not discuss the matter with her council leader daughter, who is in charge of a body granting her organisation thousands of pounds, then she may have failed in her duty of care as a charity trustee.
“We need to find out the real reason why Brenda Dombey took over from Alan Salter as treasurer of Sutton Seniors’ Forum in February. So far, the council leader and her mother have been silent on the matter,” Mattey said.
“I would have thought that if there was even the slightest concerns about the management of a charity’s finances, then the trustees and officers of Sutton Seniors’ Forum – which includes Brenda Dombey and other prominent local LibDems – had a duty of care to inform the council and the police.
“Yet according to Ruth Dombey’s statement this week, her mother never raised the matter with her as council leader.
“If any of these bodies has tried to conceal concerns about their finances and possible fraud, then any council funding or support to these bodies must stop straight away,” Mattey said.
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