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Tuesday, 17 October 2017
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Monday, 31 July 2017
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Britwell Parish bar manager gets 30 months for bar thefts

Parish Clerk gets 18 months for forging accounts

Report: Paul Janik. Photographs: TVP & Paul Janik.

 

 

Bar manager Chris Faulkner was jailed for stealing the bar takings. His woman accomplice got a suspended sentence.

Police are hoping to recover stolen cash from the bar manager's assets.


In November 2011, Britwell Parish Council, in Slough's north-west corner, employed smooth talking Britwell man Chris Faulkner as the centre's new bar manager. Mr Faulkner soon impressed many with his confident plans to improve the parish bar, then known as the Chicken Ranch. Already equipped with a kitchen, food could be prepared and served.

A month later, in December 2011, the Parish Council employed Britwell woman Lynne Booker as their joint parish clerk and Responsible Finance Officer ('RFO'). Keen to encourage and support local people, the Parish Council sent Mrs Booker on courses at Langley College - all paid by Britwell's Parish Tax payers.

For a while things seem to work well.

Bar manager Chris Faulkner, was supposed to hand-over all the bar's takings to the parish clerk who would then deposit them in the bank.

Eventually Mr Faulkner became unhappy with his employment. He began to tell people parish councillors were constraining his attempts to run a better service. Mr Faulkner said he wanted more freedom to make decisions without the Parish Council's prior-approval.

Britwell Parish Council's main building

The Query

In November 2014, Cllr Paula Murphy, who also runs Britwell's Youth Club in Wentworth Avenue, found something odd with the account balances Mrs Booker presented to councillors meetings.

Cllr Murphy was checking and authorising salary payments when she noticed a discrepancy in the parish's bank account. She asked Mrs Booker for an explanation. Mrs Booker said she would investigate and provide a report to councillors at their next meeting. Because of Christmas, that meeting would be in January 2015.

The January meeting and the accounts explanation were postponed because of Mrs Booker's ill-health.

On the morning of the re-scheduled January meeting, then being held at the beginning of February 2015, Cllr Murphy challenged Mrs Booker about the accounting discrepancies.

Put under pressure by a determined Cllr Murphy, Mrs Booker confessed and explained what had occurred and why the parish's money was missing.

Mrs Booker said for a period of time Mr Faulkner had been handing-in only bar cheques while keeping the bar's cash for himself.

When interviewed by worried and concerned parish councillors, Mr Faulkner denied he had done anything wrong. At that time, it was Mr Faulkner's claims of innocence against Mrs Booker's admitted guilt.

Parish Councillors sought legal advice then notified Thames Valley Police.

Both employees, Mrs Booker and Mr Faulkner, were dismissed in April 2015. The bar was closed and all the door locks were changed.

The George Pub

On Friday, 10 April 2015, South Bucks District Council registered Mr Faulkner, then of Long Readings Lane, Britwell SL2 1QY, as the official premises supervisor of the George Pub at 20 High Street, Burnham, opposite Burnham's fire station closed down by Buckinghamshire's Conservative councillors.

Mr Faulkner had leased the pub from the Wellington Pub Company.

Some parish councillors thought he was using the stolen parish money to fund his tenancy at the pub.

Nothing much happened for over a year.

Then, just before midnight on Friday 12 August 2016, a pub customer became unconscious after being struck on his head. The man later died. The police closed the George Pub and started a murder investigation.

By August 2016, it was increasingly known Mr Faulkner was having money problems. Business Council Tax (known as Business Rates) and brewery costs were unpaid.

On Wednesday 14 September 2016, The Wellington Pub Company took the property back from Mr Faulkner. The property was sold on 18 January 2017.

The Charges

Meanwhile police enquiries and interviews continued. The employees tried to divert attention away from their crimes and blame parish councillors. Police time and effort was wasted investigating the employees' bogus claims.

On Wednesday, 8 June 2016, Thames Valley Police formally charged

  • Christopher Michael Faulkner, now aged 58, then of Church Road, Windsor, with one accusation of conspiracy to steal.
  • Lynne Susan Booker, now aged 53, of Calbroke Road, Slough, with one accusation of conspiracy to steal and one accusation of false accounting.

Mrs Booker admitted the false accounting charge and agreed to become a prosecution witness testifying about Mr Faulkner's involvement. The Crown Prosecution Service ('CPS') then accused Mr Faulkner of a new charge of theft and discontinued both original charges of conspiracy to steal.

The Fraud

A parish council spokesman told the Slough Times the money was stolen during a two year period between about January 2013 - February 2015.

The fake accounts successfully hid the thefts from parish councillors and from checks performed by the parish's external auditors.

The parish had two types of auditors. The first was hired to inspect the books at the end of the financial year ending 31 March and to review the parish's internal record keeping and financial controls. That auditor found nothing wrong. The accounts were then sent to a Government appointed auditor who also found nothing wrong.

Following this unpleasant shock, the parish replaced the auditor responsible for the internal checks. The parish was unable to change the government appointed auditor.

From private records kept by Mrs Booker it appears that at least £62,000 was stolen. Some councillors think it was as high as £85,000.

The Trial

As Mrs Booker pleaded guilty at an earlier opportunity, she appeared in court on her own to formally plead guilty. Her sentencing was postponed until the completion of Mr Faulkner's separate trial.

Mr Faulkner's trial was originally scheduled for Reading Crown Court on Monday, 26 June 2017. However because of the allocated judge's schedule it was moved to Oxford Combined Courts to start on the same day.

This was an adversarial trial. Mr Faulkner pleaded Not Guilty. During the trial Mrs Booker gave evidence against him. A week later the jury convicted Mr Faulkner.

On Monday 24 July 2017, Judge Zoe Smith, of the South Eastern regional group, issued these sentences:

  • Mr Faulkner,
    30 months jail.

    Mr Faulkner will be released from prison after 15 months on condition he obeys whatever restrictions are imposed upon him. If he breaks those restrictions or commits another crime, he could be recalled to prison for the remaining 15 months of his original sentence plus any new sentence.
  • Mrs Booker,
    18 months jail suspended for 2 years
    3 months electronic tagging for a home curfew.

    If Mrs Booker does not commit another crime within the next 2 years, that is the end of her sentence. If she does commit another crime within that 2 year period, she could be sent to prison for her 18 months original sentence and whatever punishment given for her new offence.

Mr Faulkner has a second trial, currently scheduled for 7 December 2017. It is called a Proceeds of Crime hearing. The police will be attempting to seize, with a court order, some or all of Mr Faulkner's assets.

Police Comment

Thames Valley Police's investigating officer, Detective Constable Stuart Malham, based at Slough police station, said:

Britwell Parish Council is funded by the residents of the Britwell estate, and this money is enhanced by the profits from the community centre.

The actions of Faulkner in taking this money for his own personal use resulted in the residents of the estate of which he was once a member, being denied funds that were set aside for community projects.

Booker in her actions allowed this continued theft to go unnoticed for a number of years.

The actions of both Faulkner and Booker will have a long lasting impact on the Parish Council and the community it serves. I hope that the sentences passed down will show that crimes of this nature are taken seriously by the judicial system.

Parish Council Comment

A Britwell Parish Council spokesman said

The actions of the former Centre Manager in stealing public money and the former Clerk/Responsible Financial Office then covering up the theft for so long was a crime which has affected the local community.

These actions led to the closure of the Chicken Ranch bar for over a year.

This was tax payers money and we are pleased on behalf of Britwell residents that justice has been done.

It is utterly senseless to imprison Chris Faulkner unless he receives help and advice to enable him to reform.

At present England's prisons are overflowing, severely understaffed, and the Conservative government keeps politically meddling.

Prisons continue to be Universities of Crime – learn how to be a better criminal – and awash with drugs, knives and mobile phones. One wonders when beer, wines and spirits will be universally available.

Because of Conservative government cuts, prisoners are not getting education, training, recreation or help to become better persons.

It is morally wrong to imprison drug addicts, whose addiction has encouraged them to commit crimes. Instead they should be sent to secure hospital or clinic accommodation for the medical help and care they need and deserve.

With so many released prisoners frequently re-offending, the comments of a previous right-wing Conservative Home Secretary, Michael Howard, that Prison works shows the Tories are completely out-of-touch with reality. Labour have also failed to make prison a truly reforming and improving environment.

The public do not want worse people leaving prisons, they want better people – after all, the public are paying for the prison system.