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Edge Hill Uni boss and lover face prison over £500k fraud

A university boss and his secret lover pilfered more than £500,000 from its coffers in a years-long fraud.

Robert Smedley, 52, the pro-vice chancellor of Edge Hill University in Lancashire, created a £53,000-a-year role for Christopher Joynson without telling his employers they were in a relationship.

He then rubber stamped almost £514,000 of consultancy payments to his 34-year-old lover for work that was never carried out.

The cash was paid to two bogus firms set up by Joynson, who made fake email addresses in his dementia-suffering grandfather’s name to try to fool bosses into believing they were legitimate.

Christopher Joynson, left, was given a £53,000-a-year job by his lover Robert Smedley, right, who did not tell employers they were in a relationship 

However the scam unravelled when the university’s finance chief spotted the payments and confronted Smedley, who was also dean of the faculty of education, a court heard. He resigned from the university, based in Ormskirk, 11 days later. Joynson quit the following month.

When police raided Smedley’s home, in upmarket West Kirby, Wirral, they discovered Joynson had been living with him.

They found Valentine’s cards the couple had sent to each other, and analysis of their bank accounts revealed Joynson had paid Smedley £106,000 for renovation work on the property.

He had transferred almost £100,000 to his lover during his employment at the university.

Smedley claimed this money was rent and denied any dishonest behaviour. In regard to the consultancy payments to former primary school teacher Joynson, he claimed the work was carried out legitimately. But he refused to answer questions about the pair’s relationship or why Joynson shelled out for building work on his home. Joynson also denied any dishonest behaviour and claimed the university were aware of his twin roles as a staff member and consultant. He too refused to admit the pair were lovers.

But a jury at Liverpool Crown Court dismissed their accounts and yesterday found Smedley guilty of five fraud offences and Joynson of four fraud charges.

Judge Brian Cummings QC warned the pair they faced ‘substantial prison sentences’ when they are sentenced on October 30.

Jacob Dyer, prosecuting, told the court that at the time of the fraud Smedley held the third most senior role at the university. The scam began in September 2009 when Joynson invoiced the university for £5,250 of project work he supposedly carried out while working full time at a school in Leicester.

Liverpool Crown Court heard that Smedley scrapped the requirement for a police background check because his lover had two cautions dating back to 2001

Liverpool Crown Court heard that Smedley scrapped the requirement for a police background check because his lover had two cautions dating back to 2001

By then Smedley had known Joynson for at least nine months and had managed to create a job of ‘partnership development officer’ for him at Edge Hill.

Smedley removed the requirement for a CRB police background check because he was aware Joynson had two police cautions dating back to 2001.

Although Joynson’s starting salary was £35,646, by 2014 it had risen to £53,566 – despite other staff raising concerns he wasn’t properly qualified. At the same time, Joynson invoiced the university for thousands of pounds of fictitious ‘master classes’ at schools across the UK, which were rubber stamped by Smedley instead of being sent to the university finance department.

In total, Joynson received around £500,000 between September 2009 and June 2014 via two firms he set up. His combined income from his salary and the consultancy was around £132,000 a year.

Mr Dyer said: ‘Once Joynson was employed, this consultancy work was never authorised by anyone other than Smedley. There was a clear conflict of interest, given their relationship. The vice-chancellor and deputy vice-chancellor were not aware of any relationship at all … prior to the receipt of Smedley’s resignation.’

Edge Hill University declined to comment until after sentencing.


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