By Anton Rippon
Times are certainly changing in our industry. When Barnsley Chronicle sports editor, Andrew Lodge, was caught claiming car mileage for travelling to Barnsley FC matches, despite the fact that he’d hitched a ride on the supporters’ coach, he wasn’t just giving a rollicking in the editor’s office – he was sacked.
And even that wasn’t enough for his employers. They called in the police, with the result that Lodge – whose family, including aunts and uncles, had given a total of 125 years’ service to the paper – found himself up before Barnsley Magistrates’ Court, charged with fraudulently claiming £447.32 from the paper for the four matches in 2011.
Lodge, who covered Barnsley home and away for the paper, caught a supporters’ coach to long distance matches at Portsmouth, Cardiff, Millwall and Reading. But he submitted mileage claims as though he had made the journey in his car.
When newly appointed editor, Andrew Harrod, discovered this, he fired Lodge who had worked for the Chronicle for 25 years and had replaced his father, Keith, as sports editor.
The court heard that Lodge had admitted travelling on the bus and said he felt “terrible” about it. He was dismissed in November 2011 and the paper called in the police in 2012.
Lodge was arrested, handcuffed and placed in the cells at Barnsley Magistrates’ Court after being told that he had failed to answer a police summons. He contends that he never received the summons, which had been sent first-class post rather than recorded delivery.
It his defence it was said although Lodge, 45, had wrongly claimed mileage, he had not claimed subsistence allowances for working long hours away, including hotel bills, bus fares or meals. Nor had he claimed time off in lieu, to which he was also entitled.
David Lawson, defending, said: “There is an issue as to whether or not the paper has actually suffered a loss.
“He has never been a greedy man, He was not highly paid and earned just £22,000 but he has lost this job he loved because of the stupid mistake he slipped into.”
Lodge said that had he claimed all the expenses allowable in the staff handbook, then he could have charged his employers £1,200, including payment for meals and hotel stays, which he did not claim.
District Judge Foster said: “It seems to me that the charge to which you have pleaded guilty accurately reflects the amount and totality of your offence in this regard.”
He ordered Lodge to work 60 hours unpaid within the next 12 months and pay £532.32 in compensation and costs.
Lodge told Press Gazette: “It’s been 14 months of hell and I think that for a so-called family firm who claim that they look after the people of Barnsley, the way I have been treated was harsh.”
Harrod said: “Our evidence was it involved far more than just four matches in the couple of months before I became editor. I believe he was spoken to about it in 2006 and told he could no longer do this. We are disappointed that it’s got to this stage. But we can’t turn a blind eye to what is effectively theft. No company can do that, regardless of whatever has gone on in the years before when it was a different editorship and a different management regime.”
Harrod said that the decision to press criminal charges was not his.
Footnote: Back in the old days, I worked with a reporter who tried to claim £2 expenses for “counselling a prostitute in a public house”. He didn’t get it past the newsdesk.
- Entry forms for the 2012 SJA British Sports Journalism Awards are now available. Entries have to be submitted by January 28. You can download the forms by clicking here.