Complicit silence
: organisations and their response to occupational fraud

  • David William James Shepherd

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The limited research that has been undertaken into occupational fraud has focused on the offender and why he or she does it. This thesis focuses on the situation of the crime, the organisation. Some organisations acquiesce to internal fraud whilst others robustly confront it. The research employs a mixed-method strategy to explore the structures, social influences and cultural characteristics of organisations which lead either to active prevention or passive tolerance.

The first stage of the research examines the nature of the occupational fraud threat. The prevalence of the crime indicates that low value, occasional offending has become normalised behaviour. However the greatest financial threat comes from a small number of habitual offenders dominated by high greed sociopaths. The difficulties in tackling fraud flow from the ambiguities in its definition, not least because it is contingent on circumstances, local rules, contractual terms and the role of the transgressor. Subjectively labelling observed behaviour as fraudulent is thus in itself a major challenge.

The second stage of the research employs interview, case study, documentary data and ethnographic methods to explore how organisations respond to the challenges. An important focus of the research is the comparison of two large organisations, one with a very strong counter-fraud culture, the second seemingly indifferent to the threat. The thesis identifies ethical climate as a key variable. It proposes a five stage organisational ethical development model and identifies some of the characteristics associated with each stage, characteristics which suggest that situational crime prevention is an important component of a progressive ethical climate.

A key emergent theme is the range of excuses and justifications that are deployed to avoid tackling occupational fraud. These rationalisations mirror the rationalisations constructed by offenders to justify their actions. The thesis posits differential rationalisation as a new criminological theory, an addendum to differential rationalisation.

Date of AwardMay 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorMark Button (Supervisor) & Martin Tunley (Supervisor)

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