10 Mar 2014
A charity chairman has been killed, but who's the culprit? Delve into a leadership nightmare in the second of Shirley Otto's three-part governance detective story.
The story so far…
Lucy has been hired to carry out an evaluation of Clearway, a charity providing IT training for young offenders, using ex-offenders as tutors. On her arrival at the Clearway offices to attend a board meeting, she finds the chair, Charles Winterborne, lying dead in a pool of blood. After the body has been taken away and the police have finished their preliminary interviews, some of the board members – vice-chair Elaine, treasurer Kamran, and Martin – talk with chief executive (CEO) Miriam, and administrator Kevin about who might be responsible for Charles’ death. Kevin casts suspicion on Geri, another board member and ex-offender, who is currently under arrest for assault; Geri and Charles had a dramatic falling-out at a previous meeting. Elaine, a supporter of Geri, is furious at the suggestion. But if Geri didn’t kill the chair, who did?
The next day...
Next day Lucy met with Miriam the CE, ostensibly to talk about the evaluation, but the death of Charles commanded their attention. Miriam updated Lucy. There was to be a postmortem on Charles, and they would be told the date of the coroner’s court in the next few days. “I think they think its murder,” she concluded, only to add “and they have taken Geri into custody; she was arrested for fighting in a club last night. It is sad, Geri is troubled but OK really. We should be supportive, not punishing her; we are here to help ex-offenders.” Lucy, won over by Miriam’s warmth and thoughtful manner, murmured agreement, and then wondered out loud: “if Geri didn’t kill Charles, then who did and why?"
“Charles was also a magistrate, he could have had enemies amongst the offenders,” reflected Miriam. “Well,” said Lucy, “I’ll bear it in mind when I talk to the volunteer trainers as part of the evaluation.” She decided to go and meet some of the volunteers and trainees currently in the training suite.
Lucy found the volunteers and trainees in a huddle at the end of the room. Martin and Kamran were with them. She assumed they were telling them about the death of Charles, and started across the room to join them. Martin said something sharply and came briskly towards her, his large form blocking her path; however his voice was friendly, almost placatory. When Lucy had explained her intentions, Martin said she would get the best interviews from the training session in the afternoon and recommended she come back then. As she walked away she wondered just how deeply involved the trustees of Clearway were in its day-to-day operations.
Lucy next went to see Kevin, the Clearway administrator and finance worker; she wanted to arrange to see the notes on a sample of trainee offenders. Kevin was distinctly unhelpful, almost surly. He reluctantly agreed that she had a right to access client files, but refused to give her a time to go through them. Lucy heard her voice rising in frustration, when suddenly a voice behind her intervened. “Kevin! What’s going on here? What have you done this time?” It was Elaine, the acting board chair. Kevin coloured. Lucy tried to explain about the files, but almost immediately regretted it. Elaine tore into Kevin, accusing him of being lazy and incompetent. After this tirade Elaine turned to Lucy and said: “you can see them tomorrow afternoon. It will give Kevin time to actually do the filing.” She then stalked off.
Miriam was in her office sorting out the requirements of becoming a charitable incorporated organisation when Martin came in. “I have had the Inclusion Foundation on the phone,” he said. “Lucy is to leave until after the investigation into Charles' death is over.”
“What a pity” Miriam replied; “Lucy feels involved and wants to help support Geri.” Martin scowled at her. “So you and Elaine are plotting to save Geri – the only real suspect for the murder? Risky isn’t it? It could be seen as collusion between chair and CE. I seem to remember an issue about unprofessional behaviour in your last job. You talked about it at your interview.” Miriam was silent for a moment, then she said: “You could be regarded as threatening me Martin. I will overlook it this time, but not if it happens again.”
Martin returned to the training suite to find Lucy talking to Kamran and a couple of volunteer trainers. Kamran had been demonstrating recent Excel software programmes. Going over to her, he told Lucy that the Inclusion Foundation had decided to adjourn the evaluation and she was to go. When she protested he suddenly leaned forward, and inches from her face he said: “Leave, or we will think you are a snooper, out for your own interests. Get out; we don’t need you." Lucy looked round for support; but the trainers stared at the floor. Kamran looked distressed, but he too remained silent. Lucy picked up her bag and walked out. In the tenement car park she noticed a silver Porsche 911; who at Clearway could afford such a car, she wondered?
This was not going to be her last contact with Clearway; she was determined to help find out who killed the chair.
“I don’t know why I am letting you do this?” Miriam said to Lucy’s back. Lucy turned towards her with a smile, and patted her hand. “Because it needs to happen, we must find out what is happening, we need evidence of whatever led to Charles being killed.” Lucy went back to going through the list of files and folders on Kevin’s computer. She was particularly interested in files labelled ‘special activities’ and protected by a secret password. She was planning to hack into them in the safety of her home. She now knew who owned the silver Porsche; it was Kevin. Rumour had it he had won some money on the Lottery.
Later that evening, Lucy finished transferring the files onto her laptop. Having packed up, Lucy and Miriam were at the front door of the flat when it was suddenly thrust open. Three of the volunteer tutors stood in the doorway. They gazed at the two women, hostile and suspicious.
“Hello Stan,” Miriam said to one of them, “what are you doing here?” Stan pushed her backwards into the flat; “I’m asking the questions,” he sneered. Lucy, desperate they should not see the laptop, quickly thrust the case behind her. Seeing the movement Stan grabbed her arm with one hand and hit her across the mouth with the other. “Give that to me, bitch. Behave like good girls … or you’ll end up like Charles.”
All of a sudden the lights went out. Miriam, recovering from her surprise, hit out with one of her high heels, catching one of the men in the face and another with her knee in his groin; pushing towards the door she shouted to Lucy to follow. Lucy did, clutching her keys in her clenched fist and lashing out wherever she could. To their amazement they reached the bottom of the tenement steps unchallenged; the men did not chase them. Trembling violently, with torn clothes, bleeding and hanging onto each other, they staggered towards the car park. As they got gingerly into Miriam’s car Lucy asked “Did you turn off the lights?"
“No” replied Miriam. Lucy gasped: “Then who did?”
To be continued...
25 Mar 2014
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