The former charity fundraiser at the troubled SPACE Centre has admitted stealing £25,000 from the charity’s coffers.Advertisement
Fiona Barnes, 54, fled the charity in July 2012 when it emerged she had lied about grants which did not exist – leaving the centre facing an uncertain future.
In a further bid to evade justice, Barnes, of Dunblane, Scotland, claimed she was suffering terminal cancer when she was due to appear in court.
She even forged doctor’s notes to back up her claims but was later caught out and charged with perverting the course of justice.
Alison Birch, the SPACE Centre’s manager, said: “There seem to be no depths to which she will not sink.
“I still cannot accept that someone would do this to a worthy charity who are simply trying to help those with disabilities, it was and always will be a despicable crime.”
Barnes was employed by the charity to raise funds for an expansion and renovation plan for the centre, in 2011.
She secured a grant to buy the Willows child development centre and claimed a further £800,000 would be available to fund the building work and sensory equipment.
Read more: Inside the Space Centre’s new sensory room
But in September 2012, as the work was nearing completion, it emerged the charity was £500,000 in debt and there was no money to pay the contractors.
Ms Birch said: “Initially we couldn’t understand why Fiona would make up grants as there seemed to be no gain for her but it was only last year when we discovered she had actually stolen from us that we realised that the grant applications were the cover for what she was doing.
Barnes has now pleaded guilty to theft of £24,713 and perverting the court of justice at Preston Crown Court.
Alison Birch, the centre manager at SPACE, in Pedders Lane, Ashton-on-Ribble, said the last four years have been a struggle for the centre, which was saved from closure with a grant from Manchester-based Creative Support.
When Barnes left her role in July 2012, it emerged £800,000 in grants never existed.
The centre was planning to expand to meet the demand from disabled groups and users but staff feared they would be unable to continue operating in light of Barnes’ dishonesty.
Alison Birch said: “It has been a very difficult few years. The utter shock of realising that there simply was no money from the expected sources was devastating and we simply didn’t know for many months whether Space would survive.
“The depth and complexity of her fraud is astonishing, the forged letters from Trusts telling us we had grants pledged were incredibly accurate as were the complex email threads and spreadsheets that she produced, these all served to convince us further that we had sufficient funds for the project.
“It was these forged Trust letters that nearly brought Space down as we had commissioned all the building work and the sensory specialist work and could not pay them.
“To add insult to injury she has then delayed and procrastinated for nearly four years to prevent this coming to court by forging Drs’ letters to say she was seriously ill.
“Thanks to the Save our Space group and Creative Support who rescued us from bankruptcy, the centre lives on, bigger and better and we offer our profuse thanks to everyone who has helped us.”
Barnes will return to Preston Crown Court to be sentenced on September 29.