Sacked, arrested and locked up: '14 months of hell' for Barnsley sports editor over mileage claims

A journalist who spent 25 years working for the Barnsley Chronicle was sacked and later arrested after his employers brought criminal charges against him over mileage expenses.

Former sports editor for the paper Andrew Lodge, 45,  pleaded guilty yesterday to claiming mileage worth £447.32 after taking a bus to cover four away matches involving Barnsley Football club.

In his defence he said that had he claimed all the expenses allowable in the staff handbook and that he could have charged his employers £1,200, including payment for meals and hotel stays, which he did not claim.

Lodge told Press Gazette that it was also “custom and practice” for journalists to subsidise their comparaitively low wages via mileage expenses. His salary was £22,000 a year and he was sacked from his job in November 2011.

In June last year, Lodge withdrew a tribunal claim after being informed at a pre-hearing review that he was unlikely to win, and that even if he did he would be unlikley to recover more than his costs. By this stage, Lodge says, he had spent his savings on legal fees.

It was at around this point that Lodge launched his own website – Barnsley News and Sport – in competition with the Barnsley Chronicle, an independent paper which is owned by the Hewitt Family.

The following month, July, Lodge was called on at his home by a plainclothes detective and informed he was facing criminal charges.

In December, Lodge was arrested, handcuffed and placed in the cells at Barnsley Magistrates’ Court after being told that he had failed to answer a police summons. He contends that he never received the summons, which had been sent first-class post rather than recorded delivery.

Yesterday, after pleading guilty to the fraud charge, he was sentenced to 60 hours community service, an £85 fine and asked to repay the £447.

He told Press Gazette today: “It has been 14 months of hell and I think that for a so-called family firm who claim that they look after the people of Barnsley the way I have been treated was harsh.

“Luckily I have a tremendously supportive and understanding wife. We are a tight-knit family and that has kept me sane really. It is a tremendous relief that this is over.

“I’ve still got my passion for journalism and sport and I want to build this website up. We’ve started to get adverts in, hopefully now I can be my own man and won’t be treated like I have been.

“After 25 years service and to go through that, I think they look far more stupid than the stupid mistake that I made.”

Lodge’s father, who  is assisting him with his new website, is a previous Barnsley Chronicle sports editor who spent 34 years at the paper.

His family – including uncles and aunties – have between them contributed 125 years’ service to the paper.

Andrew Harrod, who has been editor of the Barnsley Chronicle since last October, said: "Our evidence was it involved far more than just four matches in the couple of months before I became editor. I believe he was spoken to about it in 2006 and told he could no longer do this.

"We are disappointed that it's got to this stage. But we can't turn a blind eye to what is effectively theft. No company can do that, regardless of whatever has gone on in the years before when it was a different editorship and a different management regime."

Harrod said it was not his decision to press criminal charges.

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