Mid Wales

April Jones murder: Council apologises for cash collection

April Jones and Mark Bridger Image copyright Family photo/Dyfed-Powys Police
Image caption Mark Bridger was jailed for life for the murder of five-year-old April Jones

Town councillors have apologised for collecting money following the murder of April Jones after a report found it was outside their powers.

Machynlleth Town Council banked £71,663 before handing it to charities and local causes, including the school April attended.

Auditor BDO said money offered by the public should have been refused.

Councillors defended their actions at a meeting on Wednesday, saying it was an "unusual" situation.

Y Plas, where the council is based in Machynlleth, became a hub for the search for April in October 2012, with people wanting to donate money.

The report said: "The council had no power to collect this money or to establish a bank account for its retention, but ultimately they did not intend to collect the money, they were just given it by the public.

"When people came into the office and gave them money they should not have accepted the money."

'Errors'

Gareth Jones, who was town mayor at the time of five-year-old April's murder, said the council accepted and would implement the auditor's recommendations - but asked what should have been done.

"What it (the report) doesn't say is what we should have done at the time and what should be done if it happened to any other town council.

"Surely the report should be telling us what we should have done when we had thousands of pounds in the bank upstairs. It would still be there now."

Mr Jones also claimed there were errors in the report.

After the meeting he told BBC Wales these included a statement that the money had been handed to a fund set up by April's family.

He said the council had in fact set up an independent board of trustees which had decided what to do with the donations.

Image copyright Wales News Service
Image caption Mark Bridger's house, where he is believed to have killed April, was demolished in November 2014

Councillor Michael Williams told the meeting they were "trying and traumatic" times and he found it difficult to see what else the council could have done.

The disappearance of April in 2012 sparked the biggest search in UK police history.

In May 2013, Mark Bridger was convicted of her murder and was given a whole life sentence.

A judge branded him a "pathological liar" and "a paedophile"..

Sylvia Rowlands, the current mayor, apologised to the people of Machynlleth on behalf of the council.

"We have taken the recommendations, we have read the report and we will put our house in order. We apologise to the people of Machynlleth. It was not done intentionally."

The report also drew attention to "failures in governance arrangements and inadequacies in financial management and internal control" at the council.

It found the council failed to complete its annual accounting statements and submit its annual return on time for each of the past six years.

It said the former clerk's "failure to maintain proper records" resulted in the loss of £5,073 when VAT was not reclaimed - 2% of the council's total annual budget.

The report said the new clerk had "worked to improve internal controls and bring the accounts up to date".

Image copyright Google
Image caption Y Plas, Machynlleth

The report recommended the council:

  • Maintain adequate accounting records for all income and expenditure
  • Update accounting records to ensure regular reclaims of VAT are made
  • Ensure its budget is approved before the start of the financial year and monitored regularly
  • Ensure adequate supervision of the clerk
  • Ensure, before any actions are taken, the council has the powers, be it incurring costs or opening bank accounts

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