Monday 10 January 2011

Hasn't He Done Well

It's not every day I read the Daily Record, but I was directed towards an article today.  It concerns Laurence MacKenzie, the recently resigned boss of Northern Ireland Water.

Mr MacKenzie was born and bred in Caithness in the north of Scotland - a place where his family still live.

When he was 21 he stole cash from the collection plate at West Church in Thurso.  If the article is to believed, Mr MacKenzie's action wasn't just a one-off act of stupidity, but a well planned fraud.  At the time he was a junior teller with the Royal Bank of Scotland in Thurso when he was recommended for the treasurer's position at West Church.  He had responsibility for counting cash from the collection plate and banking it at the RBS where he worked.  He pocketed the donations and it was said it was calculated that he embezzled £9,000 but when he went to court he was convicted of stealing £2000.

He avoided a jail sentence and left Thurso to study an accountancy degree at Abertay University Dundee (I couldn't think of a more appropriate course for a financial fraudster to study).  The article doesn't say if he completed his degree but in the mid 80s he applied to become a Church of Scotland minister.  He was turned down.

During this time he met and married a 'nice girl' from Northern Ireland, so after his job application with the Church of Scotland was rejected, he went back to Belfast.  In 2009 he became boss of Northern Ireland Water.

I'm certainly not against anyone having a second or even third chance in life after making daft mistakes, but Mr MacKenzie's fraud was calculated over a period of time.  He must have known he would be discovered yet he continued.  His family appear to have been comfortably off at the time and to be respected in Caithness. Few are willing to speak about Mr MacKenzie who, when he quit as boss of N I Water, said he believed in the principles of responsibility and accountability.

But - and there's always a but - an unnamed source (perhaps dubious) said "After the case the RBS, who had sacked MacKenzie, gave the West Church an ex-gratia payment of around £3,000 but none of the money was ever paid back by MacKenzie".

Mr MacKenzie has been earning £250,000 a year in his job with N Ireland Water and is reported to be in line from a £96,000 to £200,000 golden handshake - depending on which source you would like to believe.

Surely, if he is so devout (having a desire to become a minister in the CoS), he could have refunded his ill-gotten gains.

My generation usually take morals such as trust seriously.  To younger generations we may seem uncompromising but that is not so.  If it were true then we wouldn't tolerate the bureaucracy which surrounds our health and care as we age.  Unfortunately, as we grow older, we see the failings of our fellow man with more objectiveness, but don't have the energy to protest nearly as loudly as we did , on other issues, when young.

Hasn't Mr MacKenzie done well?


WitteringsfromWitney said...

"....but don't have the energy to protest nearly as loudly as we did , on other issues, when young."

*Ahem* you speak for yourself, young lady!

I trust I will not be in the minority (again) with that remark!

subrosa said...

WfW, I'm passed sleeping on pavements because of my beliefs. Much prefer the comfort of a 4 star hotel. Doesn't have as much 'protest' impact does it? I sound like a union boss.

Joe Public said...

" unnamed source (perhaps dubious) said "After the case the RBS, who had sacked MacKenzie, gave the West Church an ex-gratia payment of around £3,000 but none of the money was ever paid back by MacKenzie"."

I wonder why RBS made an ex-gratia payment? If he stole cash from the collection plate, it was never ever the bank's responsibility. He may have been employed by them at the time, but the money never entered 'the banking system'.

Edward Spalton said...

It is not so long ago that such a criminal past would have barred anyone being considered for a position of public trust.

Back in the Seventies (I am assured), it was regarded as extremely serious if (say) a Local Government Officer or Probation Officer even got a parking ticket (then a criminal matter although minor) and it had to be reported to the employing committee, who would take a very dim view of it. A significant irregularity in the petty cash was enough to get rid of anybody.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

Edward: Back in the 60s when I was an overseas telegraphist I was classified and had the perks of a civil servant. I seem to recall that if one wanted to sneeze there was a form in setuplet that required completing!

Apogee said...

Hi SR. You have to wonder at a system that allows a habitual fraudster, if the article is correct, to climb so far up the tree( with a little help from his friends)to a job that pays more than the Prime Minister, with rather less responsibility.
And he is not alone in that distinction by a long way.
So how did we arrive at this situation that hundreds of council apparatchiks are paid a higher salary than the Prime Minister,one is obviously vastly overpaid and the other vastly underpaid, my personal thought are the apparatchiks are the ones grossly overpaid.
Time this Overpaying was addressed by the government to ensure the payment is for honest work performed, not what your mates in the council will vote thtough.

subrosa said...

Back 25 years ago the church was respected by most other organisations including banks Joe. I think the payment would have been made because they felt some guilt at employing a thief. Of course these standards have now gone.

subrosa said...

I thought that Edward but couldn't find an exact date when matters changed to the 'if your offence was more than x years ago you have no need to declare it unless you wish to do so' business.

It must have been after he applied for his first public service job because the article says it was declared when he applied or the ministry.

subrosa said...

I know the Record can write sensationalism, but they've been tipped off with this one Apogee. If the facts are wrong the man can well afford to sue them. Let's wait and see if that happens.

You're right. Far too many are paid ridiculous amounts for little. There's the myth that if they're not paid the sum then they'll go to private industry. I doubt if any of them I've ever met would last 5 minutes in business and certainly not on the salaries they receive from the public purse.

Edward Spalton said...


From doubtlessly admirable intentions, Parliament passed an Act which allowed people to lie about their past.

Of course, that doesn't stop a prudent employer from making his own enquiries if the job applied for is one of substantial public trust.

I understand that parliamentary whips quite like MPs to have a few skeletons in their cupboards (or perhaps I should say presses!). The same consideration may apply to senior officials, appointed by politicians.

A former, long-serving MP (and thoroughly good man) told me. "Of course, I was brought up in the evangelical Christian way so I didn't get into the scrapes which some of my colleagues did. So the whips had nothing on me".

Anonymous said...

I can't believe this guy is getting a 'golden handshake.' I knew already that he was a useless paper-pusher with no real regard for the people he apparently served, but I didn't dare think he went that far in the past.
Don't want to really let rip because I have family that work with NI Water and you never know nowadays, but this guy seems like a Very Bad Man.

subrosa said...

You have a good point there Edward. Shouldn't the civil service thoroughly investigate future employees? If they do then they show little efficiency.

Speaking about skeletons in presses. I remember many years ago having a meal with a friend who then worked in Westminster. She mentioned MPs protect each other and that there were at least 3 MPs, at that time, desperately trying to avoid bankruptcy for one reason or another. She too was astonished at how our governmental system worked.

subrosa said...

It's not a nice story for anyone lazaruszine. If only he'd made an attempt to make amends by returning the money, perhaps then I'd be able to look at him in another light.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a thieving b*******. But he looks in his 50s or 60s from the picture. You'd have thought people of that generation had a bit more about them than this fellow does. A sense of decency that would make them pay back the piddling sum, now that they earn as much as Camerclegg, the siamese twin.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

You only have to look at the guy, to be honest.

Scottish Labour is full of people who look like that, and behave like that.

No doubt he now has a gold-plated pension worth ten times the average wage or something.

Time for lamp-posts and hempen rope.

subrosa said...

He earned half a million or so it's reported Weekend Yachtsman so his pension will be relative.

How you know he's a labour man I don't know. ;)

subrosa said...

There are chancers in every generation and walk of life Tris. This one is exceptional insofar as he was convicted of fraud then applied to the church. Takes some beating that one and even more interesting was the church turned him down. That also takes some beating as they're good at giving second chances so I'm told.

RMcGeddon said...

" he was convicted of fraud then applied to the church. "

Daft aswell as a crook !
The report said that he was the treasurer of his local church in Thurso and stole the money from church takings while supposedly depositing the money at the bank. Seemingly the church trusted him as he worked at the local bank ! How times have changed right enough.

subrosa said...

But then he applied to me a minister RM. Daft right enough.

Anonymous said...

No-one here would have twigged had he not been on telly... then, hey, that's a Caithness accent!

If anything, the article doesn't go far enough. He also was suspected of ripping-off the local Conservative Party, and one suggestion for the RBS 'reimbursing' the West Church was to put the cat to bed as he should not have been cashing-up for the former unattended.

The West Church just has completed a major refit. It opened in the 1860s, and the collection for the second Sunday was £93, giving an inkling of what it would have been in the 1980s.

subrosa said...

Thanks Alex. I didn't consciously notice his accent when he was on TV so perhaps I thought it east coast Irish.

It was obviously big enough to be worth stealing - the collection that is.

Shame the MSM didn't investigate further and find out about the Tory club business. He's not the first to rip off a political party by any means. At times I wonder why people given the post of treasurer aren't thoroughly checked out.

Anonymous said...

The Caithness brogue often is mistaken for Irish, including by other Irish (but it never is the part of Ireland they're from).

McKenzie was prolific, if nothing else, with the RBS and CofS both trusting each other's judgment to a great extent in giving him those positions.

To tell the truth, I haven't seen any evidence that he returned to his old ways - especially as he married into money - and NI Water's woes were primarily down to the antiquated system (a wooden pipe was found at one point).

Of course, there's the matter of such ridiculous salaries for utterly medicore middle-managers.

subrosa said...

In my years I've worked with many east coast Irish Alec, so perhaps that's why I thought what I did.

I'm not suggesting he's returned to his old ways. Just surprised, or maybe I'm just kidding myself, that he could rise to such a position without declaring his record. Call me old fashioned.

Now that's another subject altogether.

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