A COUNCIL manager who is accused of defrauding £100,000 from his employees to help three of his friends had complete control of his department’s budgets, a court heard yesterday.

Michael Skirving told a jury at Teesside Crown Court that he had “lock, stock and barrel” authority on the asbestos department at Darlington Borough Council at the opening of his defence yesterday.

It included tenders for work, subcontractors, tools and equipment hire and he was unaware of any limits on his spending.

Mr Skirving said: “For jobs, everything was mine lock, stock and barrel unless it was a small job. For a bigger job no one else had any involvement in.” He repeated a number of times that no one ever questioned how he ran the department.

He said: “I was left to my own devices. It was my department to run. No one ever came up to me and said ‘You cannot do this’.”

Mr Skirving was initially employed in 2004. He was told to “bring in as much business as he could, do the work safely and be as successful as he could”.

Mr Skirving worked for the authority for five years.

During that time, he claimed to have increased annual turnover from £250,000 to between £1.7m and £2m.

The number of employees also increased from three to five direct staff, two administrative roles and the need to employ between 20 and 30 agency staff.

Prosecutors have alleged that Mr Skirving, 50, was involved in conspiracies with two friends, businessmen James Burns, 43, and Martin Dougherty, 45, who defrauded the council.

It is alleged that he got Mr Burns to invoice the council for the hire of cherry-pickers, which were said to have been used on regeneration projects in Hartlepool. The prosecution claims the machine hire, and some labour costs, were bogus.

A fourth man, Graeme Storey, 38, is alleged to have been recruited by Mr Skirving to try to cover up the con by telling police he was one of the workers.

Mr Skirving told the court that Mr Burns and Mr Dougherty were two friends with whom he regularly socialised, and Mr Storey was someone he had known for about five years.

When asked how the three became involved with his work, he said Mr Burns could supply a cherry-picker at a cheaper rate than he had otherwise been quoted.

He added that regarding the Hartlepool regeneration contract, it was cheaper to find two general labourers rather than use council workers, whose roles were limited.

Mr Skirving, of Grange Road, Mr Dougherty, of Westbrooke Avenue, and Mr Burns, of Wansbeck Gardens, all Hartlepool, all deny charges of conspiracy to defraud. Mr Storey, of Hart Lane, Hartlepool, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of doing an act tending or intending to pervert the course of justice in May last year. The case continues.