Page last updated at 11:55 GMT, Wednesday, 30 April 2008 12:55 UK

Man jailed over dockyard swindle

Devonport Dockyard
Fictitious staff were supposed to be working on a submarine facility

A company boss who swindled the Ministry of Defence (MoD) out of nearly 425,000 has been jailed for three and a half years.

James McLaughlan, 58, from Ayrshire, fabricated staff supposedly working on upgrading a nuclear submarine facility at Devonport Dockyard in Plymouth.

The scam saw non-existent scaffolders paid a total of 27,000 a week.

McLaughlan appeared at Southwark Crown Court in London and admitted conspiring to defraud the MoD of 424,923.

The court heard that the "clocking in" scam began soon after his company, called McLaughlan's Scaffolding, joined 100 other contractors for a "mammoth" upgrading of the dockyard.

'Blind eye'

In one day, 58 so-called "dead men", or absent workers, more than double the real number, were paid for a full shift for supposedly helping the upgrading of the nuclear submarine repair and refuelling facility, the largest of its kind in Europe.

His stepdaughter, Rebekah Hart, site manager Robert Burns, and an "insider" at another company, were also involved in the scam.

Hart, of Fassett Road, Kingston, Surrey, whose undergraduate boyfriend was one of the "ghosts", admitted two sample counts of false accounting and was given a two-year conditional discharge.

Burns, 38, of Whistlers Court, Ardrossan, Ayrshire, was found guilty of conspiracy at an earlier trial, and was jailed for 18 months.

It was an environment which was ripe for printing money
Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith

Also convicted of taking part in the conspiracy was assistant quantity surveyor Christopher Ackerman, 33, of Lankstone Terrace, Beacon Park, Plymouth.

Ackerman worked for Bristol-based Jordan Engineering, which was responsible for processing the invoices, and he received money for "turning a blind eye" to the scam. He was jailed for 12 months.

McLaughlan paid Ackerman at least 15,000 in bribes, including laptop computers and a deposit for a house.

Hart created the 'inflated' clocking-in cards that were submitted to Jordan by McLaughlan's Scaffolding.

She then 'sanitised' these fake timesheets and clocking-in cards so the individual employees would receive their correct pay and her stepfather could cream off the excess.

The fraud was uncovered when MoD police received an anonymous tip-off.

Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith said: "It was an environment which was ripe for printing money but they did not have to print money.

"All they had to do was create false clock cards and false documents.

"The audacity of the fraud was astonishing."


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