Ribble Valley Council workers sacked in scrap metal probe

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TWO Ribble Valley council employees – including a manager with more than 30 years’ service – have been sacked and a third disciplined after a three-month probe.

Brian Knight, the borough council’s cleansing manager, his foreman, John Shears, and a refuse collection driver/loader, David Walker, are the men at the centre of the inquiry.

It concerned irregularities around the disposal of scrap metal items which the council collects from householders, with allegations some items were “weighed in” for cash at a scrapyard outside the borough.

The allegations were revealed in July, when the council’s Chief Executive Marshal Scott confirmed three staff members had been suspended pending an investigation.

On Tuesday this week the council released a new statement, which read: “Following an investigation into irregularities surrounding the disposal of scrap metal at Ribble Valley Borough Council’s depot, two council employees have been dismissed and a third disciplined.

“Ribble Valley Borough Council leader Michael Ranson said: ‘While we take no pleasure from the dismissal of two employees, I would like to reassure residents the council took this matter seriously and the investigation, conducted with the police, was thorough and professional.”

Although the council did not name the three men, The Clitheroe Advertiser understands them to be the men named above.

The two dismissed are cleansing manager Mr Knight and driver Mr Walker. It is believed the third man, foreman Mr Shears, has been demoted for a set period, at the end of which his situation will be reviewed.

In 2006 Mr Knight was the subject of a presentation by the then Ribble Valley Mayor, Coun. Mary Robinson, in recognition of his 25 years’ service with the authority.

In July, we revealed the council investigation focussed on its Salthill Depot in Clitheroe, where the men are based, and concerned the “bulky waste/special collections” service operated by the council.

For a minimum payment of £12 (for up to four items) the council will collect bulky items of household waste for recycling and disposal.

Scrap metal items, such as old cookers or other “white goods”, should be taken to a scrap metal skip at the Salthill Depot.

They are then removed by a contracted merchant who pays the council an agreed fee.

However, it is alleged some items collected from householders were not taken to that skip, but to a private lock-up garage in Clitheroe.

When enough items were there, it was alleged they were then taken on a council vehicle to a scrapyard outside the borough, in Great Harwood, where they were “weighed in” for cash.

This only came to light after the council vehicle was involved in a collision with another vehicle during one of the alleged scrapyard sorties in February. It is claimed alarm bells rang when an insurance company contacted the council over discrepancies about exactly where the accident happened, the other driver’s claim stating it happened outside the council’s area of operation, where the council vehicle had no reason to be.

The police were involved in the investigation from the outset and worked with the council.

This week, a spokesman for Lancashire Constabulary said: “We were asked by Ribble Valley Borough Council to investigate allegations of theft. Three council employees were interviewed and released. All information has now been passed back to the council for an internal investigation and there will be no further police involvement.”

However, the police investigation also concerned the collision in Great Harwood involving the council vehicle and the subsequent discrepancies in the insurance paperwork.

Regarding this element, the police spokesman added: “A 52-year-old man has been given a police caution for fraud. This relates to the falsifying of documents following a road traffic collision which happened on February 24th in Great Harwood.”

Although the man is not named in the statement, The Clitheroe Advertiser believes it to be the dismissed driver, David Walker.

What remains unclear at this stage is how long the “irregularities surrounding the disposal of scrap metal” at the Salthill Depot had been going on, what sums of money were involved, and exactly what happened to that money – money which should have gone into the public purse.