Energy Chief Jailed

A crooked head of energy procurement for around 120 local authorities has been jailed for seven years after being found guilty of a £2 million fraud.

Ross Knowles, 42, lavished tens of thousands of pounds which he amassed through his complex crimes on luxury purchases including a Jaguar car and trips abroad.

He had a high-flying role as head of energy procurement for the Local Authorities South East Region (Laser) group, managed by Kent County Council's (KCC) commercial services.

In his position, Knowles had responsibility for bulk buying energy for KCC, Kent Police and around 120 local authorities and other public sector bodies.

It enabled him to buy vast amounts of energy costing hundreds of millions of pounds but he committed an "extremely daring abuse'' of his position, detectives said.

Police said that without the knowledge of KCC commercial services, Knowles negotiated an extra management fee with British Gas owner Centrica of 0.04 pence per kilowatt hour (kWh) to be added to the electric energy supplied and used.

Fraudulent invoices with Laser branding were sent to Centrica, bearing an address in West Malling, close to KCC's offices, and account details provided for their payment were in the name of Mr R Knowles (trading as) Laser.

The management fees looked correct to Laser and KCC as they were implemented by Knowles, of Allington, Maidstone, from an early stage of the contract with Centrica.

Purchasing went on as normal, with Laser and KCC understanding the prices to be what Centrica were charging, Kent Police said.

But a total of £2,173,246 was paid to Knowles' fraudulent account between July 2009 and December 2010, with the largest payment made for more than £1.6 million.

Police said that all the payments were made without the knowledge of KCC or Laser, and Centrica believed their payments were being made to KCC.

Investigators from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate arrested Knowles at his work-place and he was convicted of fraud by a jury at Maidstone Crown Court on March 30, officers added.

Following sentencing today, Detective Constable Mark Agnew said: "This was an extremely daring abuse of position by Knowles.

"He deliberately set out to fraudulently secure a vast amount of money for himself.

"Knowles moved around £260,000 to other bank accounts that he controlled, and spent around £140,000 on luxury purchases including a Jaguar car and holidays.

"The investigation was complex in that I had to become something of an expert on how the power industry operates and how it purchases power but the fraud itself was quite straightforward.''

Knowles' bank account has since been frozen and investigators are now going through the process of clawing back his ill-gotten gains.

A Kent County Council spokesman said: "KCC welcomes the sentence that has been handed down to Ross Knowles as a consequence of him fraudulently extracting funds from its contracted gas supplier.

"The funds will be recovered and that process is currently under way.

"Working with KCC's energy suppliers, systems and controls have been reviewed and revised to protect KCC, its customers and suppliers from future fraudulent attempts.''