Deputy chief executive exonerated by police investigation

In a period of turmoil for Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, in which a number of recent scandals have broken over the running of the town (read more here), some good news for a change.

Lancashire Police in response to a press request from Neil Wilby has released this statement:

“In October 2015 Lancashire Constabulary were asked by Rossendale Borough Council to investigate whether any criminal offences had been committed following the collapse of an empty housing scheme. This followed an internal audit report carried out by Lancashire County Council. Following a complex, lengthy and thorough investigation, we have concluded that there was no criminality and from a police perspective the matter is now closed.

“We would like to thank all involved for their co-operation, support and patience during what was a complex and lengthy enquiry”.

The central figures in the ‘Empty Homes Scheme’ investigation were said to be Helen Lockwood, currently the Council’s Deputy, and now acting, chief executive following the announced, and impending, departure of her predecessor, Dr Carolyn Wilkins, and a now defunct company, AAAW Ltd.

Mrs Lockwood joined the Oldham executive management team in January, 2015, at about the same time as the £3.4 million controversy surfaced. She has consistently denied any wrongdoing. The police investigation looked into events leading up to the collapse of the company which had been tasked by Rossendale, on behalf of all the East Lancashire councils, to administer a £5m scheme to bring blighted houses back into use.

The collapse of AAAW Ltd left Rossendale liable for at least £2m at the time, now £6.5 million and still rising, and the Council became, effectively, landlord of some of the most undesirable houses in East Lancashire.

A report following a Council-commissioned investigation found that no plan was ever developed to govern how the project should run.

Internal financial and legal procedures were overlooked at the council and external whistleblowers and complaints from neighbouring councils were all ignored.

And, perhaps most starkly, Rossendale councillors were sidelined when it came to the project – with no elected Member ever taking a decision on the operation of the Empty Homes project.

The loss of more than £5m to the taxpayer in the scandal appears to have involved a ‘complex fraud’, a Rossendale council meeting heard last year. Leader Alyson Barnes said: “It was an utter scandal and I trust that the current police investigation will ultimately bring those responsible to account”.

At the time she described the investigation as ‘quite complex’ and said that Councillors had been ‘kept in the dark at the time’.

This is a developing story. More to follow. The Oldham Council press office has been approached for a statement as has Rossendale Council.

Page last updated at 1145hrs on Tuesday 10th August, 2021

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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