Ex-Royal Household worker jailed for five years over contracts bribes


A former Royal Household official who accepted more than £100,000 in bribes to award contracts for work at royal residences including Buckingham Palace has been jailed for five years.

Ronald Harper was deputy property manager responsible for maintaining the Queen's main London home, as well as St James's Palace, Clarence House and Windsor Castle, from 1994 until he was suspended in 2012.

The 64-year-old, from Sudbury in Suffolk, accepted payments or gifts from the directors of companies who were then given large contracts for maintenance of the historic buildings paid for by the then Civil List, now called the Sovereign Grant.

He was found guilty of two counts of conspiracy to make corrupt payments after two trials at Southwark Crown Court in June and August.

The corrupt bribes were made "over a significant period of time" either to directly to Harper or via a member of his family, while some of the money was used to pay Harper's credit card bills, jurors were told.

Sentencing Harper on Wednesday, Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith said there were multiple sides to his character.

One side showed a "hard-working, apparently loyal team player, admired and trusted by your colleagues", but the side they did not see was "dishonest and greedy".

He went on: "But nobody could have guessed that a trusted insider such as yourself could think of going to the lengths that you did to corrupt the system for personal gain.

"Your betrayal of your colleagues' trust and your lack of remorse at what you did are both remarkable."

Among the firms that Harper dealt with was Melton Protective Services (MPS) and BSI Nordale, which were both awarded prestigious contracts for work within the Royal Palaces.

The prosecution alleges that Harper received at least £85,000 in relation to MPS between 2006 and 2011, and £20,000 from BS Nordale directors in two payments in 2011.

Former MPS director Steven Thompson, 62, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to make corrupt payments and fraud by abuse of position, was jailed for 18 months.

BSI Nordale director Christopher Murphy, 56, was also sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment for conspiracy to make corrupt payments.

Harper's salary was around £45,000 per annum, rising to £60,000 by 2011.

During the sentencing hearing, the judge said there was no doubt that Harper was "very good at his job and very hard-working".

But he told Martin Taylor, defending Harper: "I do not trust your client very much, I am afraid."

He said: "The betrayal of his fellow workers - that is what gets to me - having seen them all give evidence, truly embarrassed and not thinking their friend and colleague could act that way."

He also referred to an award Harper had on display on his office wall, saying: "I wonder how he felt about it as he sat and pocketed the money?"

In mitigation, Mr Taylor told the judge there had never been any complaint about Harper's work, which was "excellent".

The sought-after Royal Warrant given to MPS in 2005 in recognition of excellence was "well in advance of any criminality in this case" and there was "nothing to say" the company should not have received it, he said.

Mr Taylor admitted there were "many pejorative adjectives to describe his (Harper's) conduct" but that he was a father, grandfather and a "solid, reliable family member" and any sentence would have an "enormous effect" on his family.

"There is good and bad in him and this is the bad in him," he said to the judge.

"He received this money over a period of time and that is a fact, and he shouldn't have done and he was in a position of trust and he betrayed that trust."

The group of six defendants were sentenced on Wednesday after two trials where they were found guilty of counts including conspiracy to make corrupt payments, conspiracy to commit fraud and converting or transferring criminal property.

Harper, Thompson and Murphy patted their fellow defendants on the back and shook their hands before being sent down.

Alan Rollinson, 67, of Leigh-on-Sea, Essex was given 12 months suspended for two years for converting or transferring criminal property.

The judge also ordered Rollinson, Harper's brother-in-law, to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work within 12 months as he branded bribery "toxic".

He said he decided "somewhat reluctantly" to suspend his sentence due to Rollinson's wife's declining physical health.

"I have no doubt that you knew that they were bribes because you and him are so close," he added.

BSI Nordale director Aseai Zlaou, 41, from Witham, Essex, sobbed as she was given a 12 month suspended sentence for conspiracy to make corrupt payments, and ordered to undertake 200 hours of unpaid work within that time.

Judge Loraine-Smith said he had never seen character references such as those provided by her family, friends and colleagues, adding they "paint a picture of a decent, hard-working woman who would never agree to bribing anyone".

Glynn Orridge, 67, from Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, who pleaded guilty to fraud by abuse of position, was ordered to carry out 100 hours of unpaid community work.

A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: "From the moment allegations against Ron Harper came to light, we worked closely with Leicestershire Police, providing evidence which helped lead to his conviction.

"While this was an isolated case, it has reinforced the Royal Household's broader commitment and determination to maintain good governance and prevent corruption."