'Disgraced' Waverley air quality officer blames 'political pressure' for false figures

Saturday 21st December 2019 11:00 am
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Wade's offences masked Farnham's pollution problems for two years (FD52-57-19) ()

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DISGRACED Waverley air quality officer Ann-Marie Wade’s fraudulent pollution data has had a “significant detrimental effect on the reputation of the council”, as well as “compromising the council’s ability to carry out its duties”, prosecuting lawyer Alan Gardener told Guildford Crown Court.

Mr Gardener told the court the “discrepancies” first came to light in late 2017 when a Freedom of Information request by Farnham-based air quality expert David Harvey prompted Wade’s manager to search her machine while she was on annual leave.

There, he found several “false documents” and discovered that Farnham’s diffusion tubes hadn’t been collected or sent for analysis for “the main part of 2016”.

Wade was challenged on her return from holiday in November 2017 but was unable to provide an explanation and was suspended – later resigning from the council on December 8 that year.

She was arrested in May 2018, just months after Waverley submitted the results of its audit to Surrey Police, telling police she was “under considerable pressure at work”. She also “had debts and had taken on a second job at a supermarket” and was “under political pressure to produce particular results”.

This latter claim has since been “categorically denied” by the council and its Tory leader at the time, Julia Potts.

Wade’s defence lawyer Ellie Fargin told the court her client accepted culpability for the fraud, but argued for a lesser sentence on the grounds her offences were “not necessarily an abuse of trust” or for “personal gain”, but were down to corner-cutting as she was “overwhelmed by work”.

She added her client has “no support network” or savings, is now “stacking shelves” part-time for Sainsbury’s, and is worried about how she will pay her rent.

“She obviously knows the fraud conviction will be a barrier to jobs – and she can, of course, never work in environmental health again,” added the defence lawyer.

“She was simply inundated, and asked her manager for help, asked others to assist, but found they were also overworked. She thought she would get away with cutting corners so could get on with all other areas of work.”

Addressing Wade, Judge Rufus Taylor said it was “difficult to see how you benefited from your actions, but it is easy to see the harm to the council”, adding Waverley has a statutory duty to monitor air pollution and “a lot hangs on it”.

However, he said an immediate jail term would be “of no benefit to anyone” and so suspended her custodial sentence, and “would have liked to impose compensation” but acknowledged Wade’s “extremely limited means”.

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