The value of fraud cases heard in Scotland in 2020 fell as Covid-19 created logistical challenges for the country’s justice system, according to new research.
The latest data from KPMG’s Fraud Barometer report reveals a single case of high-profile alleged fraud valued at more than £100,000 last year, while cases in 2019 were valued at more than £15.6 million.
The case involved a Crown Office worker who was in charge of evidence at the procurator fiscal’s office.
The 34-year-old was jailed for three years and nine months after it emerged she had stolen nearly £92,000 and drugs worth more than £147,000 between 2011 and 2019.
In a separate case not included in the barometer, a financial services director who obtained more than £13 million by fraud after conning investors was jailed for 14 years at the High Court in Edinburgh in April.
Some people lost pensions and life savings after falling victim to Alistair Greig’s Ponzi scheme.
Annette Barker, head of forensic at KPMG in Scotland, said: “Six months ago, we reported no high-value cases of fraud going through Scotland’s court system. At the time, we said the country could witness a tsunami of cases.
“It’s deeply concerning to see that court delays and closures have effectively shut down the criminal justice system as it attempts to deal with a suspected increase in fraud, driven by people who’ve taken advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Naturally, the pandemic has created a profound degree of uncertainty and challenge, so some cases may not have been reported and there could be delays in aspects of information being shared with the public.
“However, it goes without saying that 2021 will be an incredibly challenging year for the Scottish courts as they try to wrestle with a major backlog in cases.
“Regardless of the lack of cases coming to courts, it is important for individuals and organisations to remain vigilant in their fight against fraud.”
The KPMG Fraud Barometer has been tracking fraud since the 1980s and its analysis has identified trends in the types of the offence that have dominated courts.
It considers major cases being heard in the UK’s crown courts where charges are in excess of £100,000.
Katherine Vaughan, 34, of Aberdeen, worked as a production keeper for the Crown Office in the city when she embezzled more than £90,000 in cash and stole £147,000 of drugs – including kilos of heroin and cocaine – over nine years.
Among other stolen evidence items found in her home in Great Northern Road were sanitary pads, a stun gun, cigarette ends, chewing gum, jewellery, clingwrap and a safe.
A Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) spokesman said: “The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service is committed to effective, rigorous and fair prosecution and will take appropriate action where there is sufficient evidence of a crime.
“Throughout the pandemic, COPFS has continued to prepare and process prosecutions as far as possible, including cases involving significant economic crime.
“The service is working with justice partners on a system-wide response to the challenges presented by the pandemic.”