Former council boss embezzles £27,152 of Scottish tax-payers’ money - then secures job at Horsham District Council

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A senior council officer embezzled £27,000 of Scottish tax-payers’ money before securing a new top leisure job at Horsham District Council - which he held for two years before he was sacked

Tom Leighton, 48, joined HDC in 2009 after leaving Falkirk Council in Scotland, where he was head of leisure services on a salary of £62,000 a year.

But earlier this month at Falkirk Sheriff Court he pleaded guilty on indictment to embezzling £27,152 between October 2006 and May 2009 while at the Scottish authority.

This week HDC confirmed Leighton, who worked as head of leisure and economic development, was fired in 2011 after concerns were raised about policies and procedures which were not adhered to.

The council said it knew nothing of the possibility of embezzlement charges resulting from his previous employment when he was employed - and had even taken up a reference from Falkirk Council.

HDC chief executive Tom Crowley told the County Times: “Tom Leighton was employed by HDC from 2009 to 2011. As part of the appointment process references were taken up, one of which was from his former employer, Falkirk Council.

“In September 2011, following concerns that council policies and procedures were not being adhered to, a disciplinary investigation and hearing took place. Councillors decided that his misconduct was significant enough to warrant termination of employment and he was dismissed.”

During the court hearing Kirsten Cockburn, prosecuting, said Leighton, of Rosebank Drive, Selkirk, had held various local authority posts across Scotland before joining Falkirk Council in 2004.

His duties included staging music festival Big In Falkirk, and his position meant he could authorise payments for services provided by third parties.

Ms Cockburn said his line manager, Maureen Campbell, became suspicious of a payment made to a Mrs Gardiner in Galashiels.

Ms Campbell decided to contact Mrs Gardiner – who turned out to be Leighton’s mother-in-law.

The prosecutor said this led to an internal audit at Falkirk and various other payments came to light.

Leighton admitted embezzling the thousands of pounds when he appeared in court on Wednesday November 6.

He also admitted attempting to embezzle £16,000 – reduced from £17,675 – between July 2007 and May 2009.

Iain Burke, defending, told the court that Leighton, a first offender, had paid back £13,000 to the council and was expected to pay the balance.

Sheriff William Gallacher told Leighton: “You abused a position of trust.

“Local authorities have limited resources, and those who take them for themselves face widespread opprobrium.”

He will be sentenced on December 5.