A crooked finance manager stole £1 million from the Crown Prosecution Service while helping axe almost 200 jobs to “save cash”.
And a Mail investigation has discovered Lisa Burrows, 41, had NO professional finance qualifications for her key role within the organisation, which has been rocked by the scandal.
She and lover Tahir Mahmood, 50, were recently jailed for six years after setting up a bogus taxi firm to swindle the cash while working for West Midlands Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
The Birmingham couple stole the money from under the noses of bosses over five years, splashing out on luxury holidays, designer clothes and properties.
The CPS has launched a string of internal inquiries into how the fraud went undetected for so long, but the Mail understands no-one other than the crooked pair has faced any disciplinary action.
The Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer has previously called for more transparency within the organisation.
Yet the Mail has been denied answers to most of our questions to the CPS, including a failure to respond to a Freedom of Information request more than 40 days after the statutory 20 working days deadline.
One current worker said of the fraud: ‘‘There has been no explanation given as to how this was allowed to happen. There has been so much incompetence.’’
The CPS has issued conflicting information about the case to date.
When Burrows was charged in February 2012, the organisation described her as a finance manager. By the time she was jailed, it was calling her an area manager.
Yet we have discovered she was in a far more influential role as head of the Area Operations Centre. She was also appointed Senior Project Manager for the CPS’s West Midlands restructure, which saw her involved in multiple job losses and building closures.
But while helping axe posts in an apparent bid to save cash, she was secretly stealing fortunes with her lover by signing off bogus taxi receipts for ‘witnesses’ attending court.
At her sentencing hearing, the court was told she earned a modest £24,000 for her job, but enquiries have established she was on around £35,000pa at the time of her arrest.
The cuts she helped implement while plundering CPS funds have shrunk the service across the region, with office closures in Stafford, Wolverhampton, Wednesfield and Coventry.
In figures not publicly released, 188 staff have left since 2010 under the ‘voluntary exit scheme’.
Burrows was taking away with both hands; the one above the table helped wave goodbye to staff and in excess of £1 million in pay-offs. The hidden hand helped itself to precisely £1,021,475 by producing invoices for the fictitious Birmingham cab firm called B&M Taxis – which stood for Burrows and Mahmood.
She and her admin worker partner, who joined the CPS on a Government ‘back to work’ scheme, raked in up to £4,000-a-week over five years after he set up a fake bank account to receive the bogus payments.
Incredibly, the fraud went unnoticed despite FOUR annual audits and detailed investigations have failed to trace more than £660,000 of stolen public funds.
How alarm bells failed to ring with senior management will be a key question in the inquiries.
Providing taxi journeys for witnesses is considered the exception rather than the norm for the CPS nationally and are usually only offered to the disabled or infirm.
For three months the Mail has repeatedly asked the CPS to confirm if any manager has faced disciplinary action following the fraud. It has repeatedly refused to answer the question and many others.
“Other internal investigations have yet to be finalised,’’ spokeswoman Catherine Whittaker said.
After the scam was finally uncovered by a member of staff at the start of this year, the CPS engaged external auditors, Moore Stephens, to conduct a comprehensive review of transactions over the fraud period.
It says indications from this external audit provide ‘strong assurances that this was an isolated case’.
A number of internal reports into the fiasco were also ordered by CPS bosses, with in-house auditors questioning staff at all levels.
But they have never been made public and our Freedom of Information Act request for those reports has been repeatedly ignored, as have two request for appeals against the delays.
The Mail is now appealing to the Information Commissioner’s Office.
When asked if Burrows had any finance qualifications, a CPS spokesperson said they were not a requirement of her role.
She added: “The CPS applies a rigorous approach to assessing the capability of our staff to undertake the duties associated with their post and we train our employees to a high standard to enable them to carry out their duties effectively.
“In this instance, a professional qualification is not required for the post in question.”
When asked why CPS audit processes failed to pick up the fraud, the CPS said Burrows abused a position of trust within the organisation in order to deliberately deceive.
“Investigations are ongoing. We are unable to comment further until the reports have been finalised,” they said.
Meanwhile, anger over the fraud and its aftermath remains palpable within CPS circles.
One former worker said: “Lisa Burrows was given great responsibility, handling a number of areas of work.
“At the point of her arrest, she was Head of Area Operations Centre, she also retained control over the finance as Finance Officer and more significantly was project manager for the area restructure. This involved her making decisions over building closures; voluntary exit schemes and building contracts.
“It was reported that the area had to save £1.8 million as an exercise to move people, close offices and such like. Knowing that £1.2 million was defrauded from the CPS makes me wonder about the effect on me in terms of office closures and moves that could have been prevented.
‘‘I feel it’s very important the public is aware of the impact this incident has had on many of the staff and former staff, not only within the office where Lisa worked, but across the country.’’