'Bullying' within council department, court told.
Byline: Philip Dewey Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
THERE was a "bullying culture" within a Cardiff council department where a former employee is accused of stealing more than PS35,000, it has been claimed.
Caroline Wootton-Thomas, 49, is alleged to have written out 75 cheques for PS500 from a petty cash account at the child protection department. It is claimed she kept the money for herself or put it into her elderly mother's bank account.
The court previously heard the petty cash account was used for staff expenses like car parking, and would only need topping up by between PS100 and PS125 each month.
Speaking at the trial yesterday, defence barrister James Walker, representing Wootton-Thomas, claimed she had lost track of the account and had made a "mess" of it.
Witness Julie Evans, who worked as an administrator, denied being aware her former manager Wootton-Thomas was struggling with the account. She said many people struggle when they first begin a job but usually get better with experience.
Mr Walker said: "This account was in a mess and there a culture of passing the buck."
Mrs Evans replied: "I had no buck to pass, I was asked to record numbers which I did, so the numbers complied with the spreadsheet. To be honest I couldn't give a monkey's whether Caroline knew how to order the account. That was not my responsibility."
Mr Walker said the reason the amount taken from the petty cash account increased was because employees preferred to have expenses paid in cash and tax free.
He said: "I am suggesting the amount increased rapidly and therefore you needed a lot of money from the petty cash account.
"Since this blew up have you been spoken to by anyone about the evidence you have given in this case to protect yourself? I suggest you have lied during the course of your statement about the amounts involved."
Mrs Evans denied being a signatory to the account or signing cheques.
Mr Walker added: "How would you described the culture in the department, was it happy go lucky or was there bullying?" When Mrs Evans denied this, he suggested she was wrong.
Wooton-Thomas, of Veronica Close, Rogerstone, denies theft and charges of transferring criminal property. Her mother Hilary Wootton, of Caesar Crescent, Caerleon, has pleaded not guilty to "converting criminal property" by having PS16,200 which she knew or suspected was the "proceeds of criminal conduct". (Proceeding)