Wadham College’s Middle Common Room (MCR) has been rocked by a financial scandal, as it has been revealed more than £21,000 of MCR funds were embezzled by a former officer.
On Monday evening Wadham MCR members were emailed a statement by the President of the MCR and informed that “a former MCR committee officer stole over £21k (£21630.66 to be exact) from the MCR bank account”. The money was spent “primarily on purchases from Etsy and Amazon”. However, MCR members were reassured that the person responsible “has admitted to the theft, and paid the money back”.
The email notes that the handover from the previous MCR committee occurred in March. However, there was a delay in the new MCR President gaining access to MCR bank statements until the 9th of June. This was because “the MCR mail was not being delivered to the MCR pidge, for unknown reasons”.
The email further notes “Upon opening the bank statements, it was obvious that there were either serious thefts from the account or serious (although unlikely) fraud. Between the 5th of March and 31st of March, 89 suspicious purchases took place, adding up to £21,630.66. Items purchased ranged from £3.50 to £2324.16”. Accounts shared with Wadham MCR members show purchases from several jewellery sellers on Etsy amongst many others.
The statement goes on to explain that following this discovery, the Wadham MCR President and VP Welfare met with the College’s Finance Bursar Peter Alsop and the Dean Andrew Farmery on the 9th of June “to discuss the situation and steps forward, including any potential legal actions”. As a result of this meeting, “It was determined that a previous MCR exec member stole the funds, and that this behaviour wasn’t new, having been kept confidential at the request of college. The situation was then escalated, though confidentiality has been maintained”.
Minutes for a Wadham MCR meeting on the 30th of June contain further details. It was noted by the MCR President that “Something like this has happened in the past, during the last committee’s term”. This was “kept confidential at the time at the request of college, however incoming MCR exec members were told about it”.
On the 25th of June, a further meeting was held between Mr Alsop and the President of the MCR. The statement notes “At this point, she was informed that the money had been paid back into college, and she was given the go ahead to indefinitely suspend the MCR member. On the 30th of June, a MCR committee meeting took place and the executive members voted unanimously to remove this MCR member according to section 5.5.6 of the MCR constitution”.
As a result of this scandal, Wadham MCR has now committed itself to financial reform. According to the minutes, the previous system was that one person, the Treasurer, was in charge of accounts, while two people were issued with cards. However, it is admitted that the “current system was very bad at keeping up to date on cards”.
The MCR statement admits “several things that went wrong”. It states that responsibility for monitoring accounts “falls on the treasurer, who did not provide updates on the bank account to the MCR in spite of multiple requests to do so” and who “inexplicably did not notice that £22k was missing, and made no effort to view past bank statements”.
It is further admitted that “The MCR has so far been relaxed about keeping the current committee (and removing old execs) from the bank. We are instituting a clearer handover process for VP Finance in which access to the accounts will be fully changed every year”. The MCR has further committed to make termly budgets available to members and to set up a financial working group.
Since this statement was sent out, the MCR Treasurer has resigned. In a statement, the Treasurer claimed “When I came into my role as treasurer, the finances were already very messy and many people (that weren’t on the committee anymore) still had access to the account. I was told from the start to focus on opening a new account at HSBC while another person (that I cannot name) was handling the current account we had. So, I was under the impression that since we were transitioning bank accounts, we were in a special situation where I was ‘co-treasurer’ with that other person and that person was helping coordinate things”. The Treasurer further notes that “I did gain brief access to the account at some point (through an old MCR member) to do some reimbursements for a special covid fund that I organized. However, I had previously been given false numbers by the person who was helping me, and these numbers were consistent with the ones I saw when I opened the account. So things looked normal”.
The Treasurer concludes that “In summary, I feel like I was duped by the very person that was supposed to help me. I was made aware of the fact that this person had stolen some money from the MCR before, but I was also told that this person had been caught, returned the money and that college knew about it and had intervened in order for this not to happen again. So I truly believed that this situation was resolved, and that the person wasn’t going to do it again, especially with college being aware of it … I now see that I should have been more distrustful (I believed in the system), and I wish that I had received more support from college, since they knew about the situation, instead of only being supervised by the very person who stole the money. I was put in a situation where I had to work with this person. I think that this person should have been immediately removed from the account as soon as the first instance of theft happened. The fact that the person still had access to the account allowed her to steal again”.
Concern was expressed at the MCR meeting as to why the matter had been kept confidential. Members were informed that it was agreed to keep the matter confidential as it was under disciplinary investigation by the college. The identity of the member responsible has also been kept confidential for the same reason. However, the opinion was expressed that the matter should have gone to the police for investigation.
It remains unclear why Wadham College kept the matter confidential rather than going to the police. When asked for comment on this matter, Wadham College provided The Oxford Blue with the following statement:
“Wadham College has nothing further to add to the statement issued by the MCR. While being sensitive to our responsibility to the student involved, an internal procedure is underway. The Charities Commission is being kept informed, as is proper when an incident of concern is being investigated.”
The Oxford Whisperer has reported that a former treasurer was responsible for the theft.