A charity fundraiser who stole £24,000 from the disabled children’s charity she worked for has been jailed for 15 months.Advertisement
Fiona Barnes, 55, was so desperate to avoid prison she even claimed to have terminal cancer in her bid to evade justice.
The university educated fundraiser, from Dunblane, Scotland, has already served a prison sentence for committing an almost identical offence when she stole £30,000 from her former employers Social Enterprise Clydebank (SEC) in 2009.
But within months of leaving her position, she took the job of project manager at the SPACE Centre, a charity which provides sensory play equipment for children with autism and special needs in Ashton-on-Ribble – giving her name as Fiona Raven.
Between November 2010 and July 2012, Barnes, of Dunblane, Scotland, stole £24,730 from the charity, using invoices from contractors to pay large sums into her own bank account.
One invoice, from architects Cassidy + Ashton, in Preston, proved to be entirely fraudulent, but was used by Barnes to write herself a cheque for £11,550.
Read more: These guys are climbing mountains after hearing the Space centre has been defrauded
Other cheques were found to have forged signatures and their stubs made out to contractors – who never received the money.
Identical sums appeared in Barnes’ own accounts within days, the court heard.
Barnes pleaded guilty to theft and perverting the course of justice and appeared at Preston Crown Court to be sentenced.
Following her arrest, Barnes was bailed to appear at Preston Magistrates’ Court in September 2013, but claimed she was suffering from stage four bowel cancer and was too ill to travel to court.
She even produced false medical notes, which stated she was receiving palliative care and chemotherapy.
Recorder David Potter, sentencing, said: “You left their employment in September 2012. The effect that your theft has had on the SPACE Centre can not be understated.
“Those who had employed you, those who had engaged you, those who trusted you, day after day, felt and continue to feel utterly devastated by your rank dishonesty in stealing from that company time and time again.
“When you were arrested by the police in this country in relation to these matters you were then summoned to court.
“Your dishonesty in relation to the theft from Space is compounded by your then deliberate attempt to pervert the course of justice.
“You submitted a number of false and doctored letters purporting to be from your medical examiners that suggest you were suffering from stage four cancer; that you were desperately ill, in fact even terminally ill.
“All that was done quite deliberately in order to persuade the authorities in this country to take no action.
“You are a university educated, intelligent woman and a conniving con artist.
“The managers of Space were completely taken in and you abused their trust in a significant way.”
The judge said Barnes’ offending was made worse by the fact she had previously stolen £30,000 from her employers in Scotland, again claiming to have cancer when she was caught.
As Barnes was led to the cells, staff from the SPACE Centre shook their heads at her from the public gallery at Preston Crown Court.
Speaking after the hearing, Alison Barnes, The SPACE Centre’s manager, said: “Everyone at Space is extremely relieved that this is finally over. It has been a long hard 4 years of waiting for justice to be done. Our main aim was to publicise her name and identity so another vulnerable charity would not suffer as we have done.
“We would like to thank everyone who has supported Space and hope they will continue to do so, onwards and upwards.”