Paula Vasco-Knight, 53, was given a suspended jail sentence at Exeter Crown Court after admitting one charge of fraud
A former NHS chief executive has been spared jail after more than £20,000 of taxpayer’s money was used for her husband to run a company from his garden shed.
Paula Vasco-Knight, 53, was handed a 16-month suspended jail sentence at Exeter Crown Court today.
The judge also ordered her to carry out 250 hours of unpaid work.
Her husband received 10 months’ imprisonment, also suspended for two years, and 150 hours of unpaid work.
Vasco-Knight was described during the trial as ‘dishonest in the extreme’ when she siphoned off the payments without telling colleagues that graphic designer ‘Steve’ was in fact her husband.
Stephen Vasco-Knight was paid £9,000 to design one newsletter and £11,072 to knock up a 200-page document on leadership called ‘Transform’ – described as a ‘complete sham’ because it never existed.
Vasco-Knight was the NHS lead on equality during her illustration 30 year career in the NHS as she became the organisation’s first-ever black chief executive.
She rose through the ranks one of the most prominent black executives in the UK, earning a salary of £165,00 a year.
She shook and sobbed uncontrollably as she changed her plea to one of the two charges of fraud. Her husband Stephen also admitted fraud.
The couple, from Runcorn in Cheshire, changed their pleas to guilty on the second day of the two-week trial.
Vasco-Knight, who rose from the ranks of nurse to chief executive during her 30-year NHS career, broke down in tears before entering her guilty plea.
Paula Vasco-Knight (left) pictured leaving the court with her husband and brother (centre, right) during the two-week trial held in Exeter
She admitted abusing her position as CEO at the trust by authorising the £11,072 payment to her husband for the document.
Her husband also pleaded guilty to fraud by submitting a false invoice to the trust for the Transform document in November 2013.
During the trial, jurors heard Vasco-Knight commanded a £200,000 budget for her one-day-a-week role as the national lead for equalities.
In 2012, she used the fund to buy a MacBook Pro computer with QuarkXPress graphic design software – later admitting she could not use it.
Prosecutors claim Vasco-Knight used the computer, particularly the graphic design software, for his own business Thinking Caps.
Vasco-Knight was awarded a £10,000 bursary for leadership development in December 2012.
The following November, her husband submitted an invoice for £11,072 from the bursary funds for producing a document entitled Transform.
Weeks later, Vasco-Knight began chasing the payment, using her authorising number to approve it.
Exeter Crown Court where Vasco-Knight Vasco-Knight sobbed as she admitted to carrying out the fraud on the second day of the trial
She then asked the finance department if the money could be paid as a cheque. Her husband later produced his banking details.
Those details led to a link being made between Vasco-Knight and Thinking Caps.
Vasco-Knight did not provide a copy of Transform, which he claimed had been completed in 2013, until his interview in March 2015.
Many of the 200 pages were blank, except for the words ‘Think it, write it’, and passages of text were virtually verbatim from work published in 2014.
Vasco-Knight was the chief executive of South Devon NHS Foundation Trust until her resignation in 2014. She also worked for one day a week as the NHS’s head of equality and diversity, where she had control of a £200,000 annual budget.
She had been employed by the NHS for 30 years, starting as a nurse.
Her fall from grace began in 2015 when whistleblowers accused her of selecting her own daughter’s boyfriend as an equality and diversity manager at her own Trust.
The claims led to a chief executive quitting her job over ‘nepotism and favouritism’. She denied the claims and said she was victim of ‘personal slander.’
NHS senior manager Habib Naqvi, 39, was found not guilty of two charges of encouraging or assisting Mrs Vasco-Knight after the prosecution offered no evidence against him.