Man jailed for four-and-a-half years for stealing more than £200,000 from Lowestoft disability charity
PUBLISHED: 17:42 06 July 2017 | UPDATED: 08:49 07 July 2017
A 51-year-old man who defrauded a Lowestoft charity out of more than £200,000 has been jailed for four-and-a-half-years.
Neil Payne appeared at Ipswich Crown Court today for sentencing after admitting fraud by abuse of position at an earlier hearing on May 31.
Payne, formerly of Rushton Drive in Carlton Colville, was volunteer treasurer at DIAL Lowestoft and Waveney – a charity which works with people with physical and sensory disabilities, learning disabilities, mental health problems and long-term illness.
Between October 2010 and January 2017, he made more than 270 transactions between the charity’s bank accounts and his personal account, leaving the charity in a desperate financial position and causing distress both to the trustees and staff of the organisation and the vulnerable people they work with.
The alarm was raised after charity chairman Margaret Oldham was contacted at the end of January this year by the four employees who reported they had not been paid. She and several others then tried to get in touch with Payne but there was no reply to phone calls or emails.
A few days later, with no response, Mrs Oldham went to the bank. She described being horrified as she was shown the charity accounts – which showed there was just £289 in the current account and 8p in the savings account, when there should have been over £10,000. She then checked a further account – the charity reserves – which should have had £54,000 in it and it was found to contain just £2,000.
Initial examination of the bank accounts showed a large number of entries listed as ‘wage’ and ‘expense’ payments dating back to October 2010 and police were contacted on February 3, 2017 to investigate.
Starting with just over 12 months of current account statements initially provided by the bank to Mrs Oldham, it quickly became apparent that payments listed to the payee ‘Payne’ amounted to over £47,000 between November 2015 and January 2017. Police requested more information from the bank and made plans to arrest Payne, however around the same time he was reported as missing after failing to turn up for work.
A search of his home was conducted and paperwork relating to both the charity and his personal accounts was seized.
After being posted as wanted on the Police National Computer, Payne was finally arrested on April 4 in Chester.
In interview he admitted fraud by abuse of position, telling police that he had begun stealing because money had been tight after he had resigned from his job and, after he had found new employment on a lower wage, he had continued to steal to maintain his lifestyle. He admitted presenting the charity with bogus budget reports, and falsifying withdrawal slips to take funds from the charity reserve account.
He accepted he made 277 transactions, totalling £212,639.53.
Mrs Oldham said the effect on the charity, workers and service users had been significant – both financially and emotionally.
She said: “The stress of not having any funding has had a huge impact on staff and trustees alike. We have all been living a nightmare, and this has not gone away completely yet.
“Without individual trustees loaning money out of their personal accounts to pay salaries for January and February 2017 he would have ‘killed’ a charity which is vital to hundreds of people with disabilities and which has been in existence for 30 years.
“We are still very unsure of our future and whether we can get enough funding to continue. Most funders demand reserves of six months running costs. The charity costs £110,000 to run for a year and we have £2,000 in reserves. Trustees have put in many hours of their time to develop new processes and to try to rebuild trust. We are gradually getting some local funders to believe in us so that our cash-flow is sufficient for day to day purposes, but it will take a long time to replace the thousands he took from us.”