Prison boss back at work

By Stephen Cook

Corrections has quietly reinstated the senior staff member whose high-profile employment case sparked the controversy that cost former minister Damien O'Connor his job.

The department confirmed yesterday that Rimutaka Prison manager Jim Morgan had resumed work nearly 18 months after being suspended on full pay following allegations he had misappropriated prison funds and misused a departmental vehicle.

Assistant regional manager Liz Nielsen refused to release the department's findings or answer questions about its inquiry, including why it had taken nearly 18 months to clear Morgan.

The only comment she would make was in reference to Morgan being suspended on full pay, saying that was standard practice in these types of employment cases.

Morgan, who has worked for Corrections for two decades and has been a unit manager at the prison since 1998, was among a dozen staff stood down last year following corruption allegations at Rimutaka Prison.

He unsuccessfully took a case to the Employment Relations Authority in a bid to overturn the suspension after it ruled his presence in the workplace could hamper the department's ability to carry out its investigation.

O'Connor unwittingly became embroiled in the whole controversy after allowing Morgan to accompany the parliamentary rugby team on its trip to France.

At the time it emerged that Morgan's wife Marie worked in O'Connor's office and had sought permission on her husband's behalf for him to join the team.

When O'Connor arrived home he had to face the music from colleagues and senior ministers who questioned his judgment in taking a suspended Corrections officer to France.

Two months later Prime Minister Helen Clark stripped O'Connor of his portfolio.

Morgan could not be contacted by the Herald on Sunday yesterday, but Corrections Association head Beven Hanlen said he had concerns about the length of time it had taken to complete the inquiry.

He said there was likely to have been a paper trail which would have fairly quickly proven or disproven the allegations, he said.

"It does not give much credibility to the process. The first week would have been like a holiday but every day after that gets worse and worse.

"It is almost like they are fishing for stuff looking for a reason to get rid of you. It's a sad thing to say but they think if they can get rid of this person it's going to make them look good in the media. If you are the poor sap they pick, they will do everything they can to get rid of you."

National's law and order spokesman Simon Power said he had similar concerns about the length of time the inquiry had taken to complete.

"Whichever side of the argument you take, 18 months to investigate an employment matter and then to have no result seems for both parties to be an entirely inadequate outcome."

- Herald on Sunday

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