Wales

Audit Office will recover after ex-head's jailing, says AM

Jeremy Colman
Image caption Jeremy Colman was also ordered to register as a sex offender for 10 years

The credibility of the Wales Audit Office will not suffer long-term as a result of the jailing of its ex-auditor general, says a senior assembly member.

Jeremy Colman is beginning an eight month jail term for possessing more than 170 indecent images of children.

Chair of the assembly's public accounts committee, Jonathan Morgan, said a "golden future" lay ahead for the office Colman formerly led.

Colman, 62, admitted 15 separate offences.

Mr Morgan admitted to BBC Wales that he had been "gobsmacked" when the allegations against Mr Colman surfaced.

He said: "That's the only way I can describe it because I would never have thought that he would have committed those offences.

"But I don't think the (audit office's) credibility has been damaged because these are the acts of one man."

Image caption Jonathan Morgan AM said he was "gobsmacked" to learn of the charges against Colman

The auditor general for Wales heads the Wales Audit Office, which is independent of government and is responsible for the annual audit of some £20bn of public expenditure.

Reports it prepares on the Welsh Assembly Government's accounts are scrutinised by the public accounts committee.

Mr Morgan credited the staff at the audit office with continuing to work hard despite the strain they had felt during the investigation into Colman's offences.

He said: "The Wales Audit Office is an incredible organisation with some of the most dedicated, professional and intelligent public servants that I have ever met.

"I think it's a golden future for them, however, they have had a very difficult number of months and it must have been very demoralising.

"In some senses it may have damaged their reputation but I think that's going to be a short-term dip.

"And I think longer term people will see that we have a confident and capable organisation of highly motivated professional people who are capable of delivering the sort of work that we need and rely on."

Huw Vaughan Thomas was recently appointed the new auditor general and Mr Morgan welcomed the reforms he is heading up at the office.

"There's a review at the moment and I hope that will lead to some reforms in the future."

Internal investigation

Leanne Wood, Plaid Cymru AM for South Wales Central, called for a new culture of openness at the Wales Audit Office.

She told BBC Wales: "What's important now is that the internal systems that clearly weren't right under Colman are put right now, so we can all have confidence in the very important work the audit office carries out.

"Mr Vaughan Thomas tells me he is in the process of carrying out an internal investigation into what went on under Colman and will be reporting back to the public accounts committee in December.

"What has come out so far has concerned a number of assembly members and we are all keen to...find a way of holding the office of district auditor to account because the problem has been that no-one has been scrutinising the scrutinisers."

Considerable embarrassment

Colman, who stood down from his £170,000-a-year post in February, had been remanded in custody since 1 November after admitting downloading and possessing images of child sex abuse.

He has a home at Dinas Powys in the Vale of Glamorgan but has been living near Peterborough in Cambridgeshire.

Sentencing, Judge Nicholas Cooke QC, the Recorder of Cardiff, told Colman he had caused considerable embarrassment for the Welsh assembly.

The court heard 51 of the images were of level four, the second most serious level.

The images were described by the judge as utterly revolting material.

Colman was ordered to register as a sex offender for 10 years.

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