RAF mess charities defrauded of almost £200k 'lacked basic financial controls'

A report from the Charity Commission says 'ineffective application of basic safeguards' allowed Zowie Davis, who was mess clerk of the charities at RAF Honington in Suffolk, to steal the money

(Photograph: Russell102/Getty Images)
(Photograph: Russell102/Getty Images)

A lack of basic financial controls led to two Royal Air Force mess charities being defrauded of almost £200,000, a Charity Commission inquiry has found.

The regulator says in an inquiry report that "serious governance and management failures" and an "ineffective application of basic safeguards" allowed the fraud to take place over a sustained period.

The commission opened a class inquiry in 2016 into all 72 of the RAF mess charities, which provide facilities and services for the wellbeing of personnel at RAF bases, after the fraud emerged at RAF Honington in Suffolk.

Zowie Davis, of Honington, pleaded guilty in May 2016 to the theft of £72,000 from the Officers’ Mess and Sergeants’ Mess charities at RAF Honington.

Davis, a civil servant who acted as mess clerk for the charities, was given an 18-month prison sentence at the time.

The regulator opened a class inquiry because all the charities used the same financial control methods and it was concerned that weaknesses at Honington could be replicated in other such charities.

Its report, published yesterday, says the failures at the RAF Honington charities amounted to serious mismanagement.

The report says the Honington fraud, which was carried out over a period of at least four years until it was discovered in September 2014, could have been worth almost £200,000.

"A Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 report relating to the conviction of the mess clerk established that the mess clerk admitted to fraudulently obtaining a total of £197,000 during the period from 2010 to 2014," it says.

It says charitable funds at RAF Honington were put at undue risk because of "serious failures over a sustained period to ensure that basic financial controls were followed".

It also says accounting records were not properly kept and steps to prevent further losses were not taken quickly enough after the fraud was discovered.

Since 2016, the RAF has made good the losses to charity funds via the contractor that was providing services to the mess charities and HM Treasury, the report says.

Harvey Grenville, head of investigations and enforcement at the Charity Commission, said: "The RAF failed to adequately protect the funds at RAF Honington, thereby allowing an unscrupulous individual to steal significant sums from the mess charities over a sustained period of time.

"The fraud was so significant for these mess charities that it left them in a precarious financial position which could have resulted in their collapse and had a direct impact on serving RAF personnel. It also exposed wider failures in the control and assurance systems used by the RAF.

"It should not have taken a Charity Commission class inquiry to mobilise an appropriate response from the RAF to address these issues and correct this situation.

"We are pleased to see the significant steps that have since been taken both to make good the losses and to address our concerns."

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