• Peter Knight, 53, handed two-year prison sentence, suspended for two years, at Oxford Crown Court today
  • Was former chief information and digital officer at Oxford University Hospitals FT

A former Oxford hospitals trust director who admitted to a charge of fraud after lying about having a degree has been given a suspended sentence.

Peter Knight appeared at Oxford Crown Court today on one count of fraud by false representation after lying about having a degree on his CV when he applied for a post at Oxford University Hospitals Foundation Trust in 2016. He pleaded guilty to the charge last year.

He was handed a two-year prison sentence, suspended for two years, before being ordered to carry out 30 days of rehabilitation activity and 200 hours of unpaid work.

Judge Nigel Daly said a custodial sentence was “unavoidable”, but reduced the length to reflect Mr Knight’s guilty plea.

The 53-year-old, who largely sat still for most of the proceedings, broke down in the dock once the sentence was read out in court.

Anonymous referral

Mr Knight successfully applied for the role of chief information and digital officer at OUH in August 2016 before resigning just over two years later in September 2018.

Jonathan Lynch, prosecuting, told the court OUH received an “anonymous referral” in May 2018 which alleged that Mr Knight did not hold a classics degree, which he listed on his CV when he applied.

The trust emailed Mr Knight asking for a copy of his degree certificate, and he said he would “dig it out”. Emails were exchanged between July and August of that year before Mr Knight, who had “put off and put off” the request, left his post later that month.

Mr Knight then got a job at the Cabinet Office, but when his new employers asked OUH for a referral the trust said it could not provide one until the original matter had been resolved.

He was later charged with fraud after OUH handed the case over to the police. Mr Knight had described the incident as a “little white lie”, according to prosecutor Mr Lynch.

The court heard that it was “impossible” to say whether Mr Knight would have got the job at OUH, which paid a base salary of £130k, without a degree or if it would have been offered to somebody else, with judge Daly adding “we will never know” if he would have been hired. 

The court heard the charge had a significant impact on his life. Mr Knight subsequently split from his wife, struggled to pay the mortgage on his properties, and suffered a breakdown in his relationship with his father.

He also attempted to take his own life on two occasions.

Explaining his mitigating circumstances, Michael Mcalinden, defence, said Mr Knight said the fraud charge “shattered” him and that he had become a “broken man”. The court also heard from both prosecution and defence that there was little evidence to suggest he had performed the job “badly” at OUH.

Mr Knight, who was headhunted for the role, was said to have performed the job to a “very, very high standard” in a character reference by Sir Alex Markham, a professor of medicine and director of the MRC Medical Bioinformatics Centre in Leeds.

Sir Alex added there was “no significant damage done” as a consequence and praised his performance in those two years as “outstanding”.

After imposing a two-year suspended prison sentence, judge Daly warned Mr Knight: “You don’t get a second chance [after this]; this is your second chance.”

OUH response

An OUH spokesman told HSJ: “The trust has subsequently strengthened its recruitment process to ensure that it is not possible to avoid confirming the academic qualifications of applicants prior to appointment.

“The trust also verifies key qualifications with the university, professional body or other institution which awarded the qualification.

“In line with NHS Counter Fraud Authority guidance, the trust has applied for compensation for the costs of the investigation and for the salary paid to Mr Knight during his employment by OUH.”

Sue Frith, chief executive of the NHS Counter Fraud Authority, said today’s sentencing is a “reminder that the law and the rules apply to all in the NHS”.

She added: “Anyone who obtains an NHS job through lying is committing fraud. Any suspicion of fraud against the NHS should be reported via our fraud and corruption reporting line, either online or by telephone.”