North West Wales

Forces for Good fraud: Conwy council chief 'sorry'

Chris O'Neill
Chris O'Neill admitted two counts of fraud and was jailed for three years

The chief executive of Conwy council has apologised for mistakes made before the local authority was "conned" out of £125,000 by a fraudster claiming to help army veterans.

However, Iwan Davies said he could not guarantee mistakes made in the case of Chris O'Neill would not happen again.

O'Neill was jailed for three years for gambling most of the money intended for the Forces For Good company.

The council asked the Welsh government to review its grant procedures.

Former soldier O'Neill, from Colwyn Bay, set up a company called Forces For Good and was given a £125,000 Welsh government grant for a hotel for ex-service personnel in Llandudno.

Conwy council was supposed to administer the £125,000 grant on behalf of the Welsh government, but O'Neill went on a spending spree, gambling heavily, running up hotel bills and buying a speedboat before being caught by North Wales Police.

Conwy council has said the grant has been repaid.

On Thursday, at a meeting of the council's audit committee, chief executive Mr Davies said: "I am really sorry this happened.

"This extremely worthy cause gathered a momentum behind it, a national momentum, lots of public support.

"When it came to our role I think there was so much pressure behind it the people involved in administering it went what they thought was the extra mile to help this along and went beyond what was acceptable.

"We were conned. They did this for the best of intentions."

Mr Davies said the council did not "seek to sweep it under the carpet. We brought it to the public domain at the right time".

He added: "I can't say it will never happen again.

"The systems are operated by people and people sometimes make mistakes, sometimes for the best of intentions.

"I am hugely disappointed about what has happened. I am pleased with the way we have handled it."

Strategic director Ken Finch said other grants had been reviewed, but added: "If someone is determined to perpetrate a fraud they will give it a damn good go."

Cllr Janet Haworth said she did not want a "blame culture," but added: "Clearly the application form should have rung alarm bells, but it didn't."

Cllr Brian Cossey said: "I am concerned that a person like this can go through a considerable procedure.

"There are perhaps four bodies that have approved this grant including the Welsh government, yet no-one considered making any checks on the individual.

"He was an extremely good conman."

The committee accepted an action plan and called on the Welsh government to review their grant application process.

Last month Falklands veteran Simon Weston called for tighter control on how grants to veterans' organisations were monitored.

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