FOR three years they duped people into believing they were donating to charity.
The Southampton-based gang would take collecting tins around pubs across the south claiming they were raising money for the well-respected Marie Curie Cancer Care.
But in reality they kept the money handed over by kind-hearted drinkers who had no idea it was a scam.
When police caught up with them, one of the gang even confessed they were the “most evil bastards going”.
It will never be known exactly how much the gang got away with during the long-running fraud.
Southampton Crown Court heard how they used collecting tins covered with the Marie Curie name and logo, which they had no authorisation to use.
Now five people are awaiting sentence on April 5 for their roles in the scam.
Four were found guilty by jurors while one admitted charges before the trial.
Jurors heard Gordon Coe was the ringleader, Susan Christians and Pauline Hunt acted as collectors and Ben Chapman was the driver.
Chapman’s wife Kim also accompanied her husband on collecting expeditions, helped count the money and stored the Marie Curie paraphernalia.
Prosecutor Nicholas Tucker told the court the fraud began after Coe had been accepted as a volunteer for the charity and received tins, a paying-in book, T-shirts, an ID badge and a receipt book on the understanding he would collect in the Southampton area.
If he ever left a tin a pub, he was supposed to provide the organisation with written proof.
He introduced Hunt and Christians to the organisation but they collected money in their name without authorisation.
Christians confided in a friend how she collected for the charity twice a week and she “skimmed” the tins, keeping some for herself and splitting proceeds with Coe.
Mr Tucker said in raids, police found forged tin labels, letters and ID badges at the homes of the Chapmans and Hunt. They also seized bags of coins from the Chapmans’ home and at the Christians’ address.
The court heard a police interview with Christians in which she admitted she had shared proceeds with others.
She said: “I know it’s a nasty thing to do but I’ve done it, I’ve got to live with it.”
But she said she wasn’t going to “take the rap” for others. She knew the money wasn’t going to the charity and used what she took to live on.
Mr Tucker told the court: “With remarkable frankness, she said ‘We are the most evil bastards going.’ What they had been doing was ‘totally wrong’ and she had felt guilty because pub landlords had been ‘absolutely fantastic’.”
After the case, Detective Constable Giulio Pizzo, who led the 18-month investigation, said: “It is truly unfortunate this sort of crime not only deprives genuine charities of much needed funds but generates mistrust among the public towards real charity collectors.”
A spokesman for Marie Curie Cancer Care said: “We would like to reassure people this type of incident is very rare and we shouldn’t let one bad apple give legitimate charity collectors a bad name.
"The vast majority of collectors are trustworthy and dedicated and, as a charity, we couldn’t raise the vital funds.”
- Ringleader Gordon Coe, 65, of Mansel
Road East, Southampton, pleaded guilty
at an earlier hearing to conspiracy to
defraud and concealing financial
The other defendants had denied all
charges against them.
- Benjamin Chapman (below), 43, of Pennine
Road, Southampton, was convicted of
conspiracy to defraud.
- His wife, Kim, (below) of the same address,
was convicted of conspiracy to defraud
and converting criminal property by
keeping the donated cash for her own
- Susan Christians (below), 64, of Drapers
Copse, Dibden, was convicted of the
conspiracy and converting criminal
- Pauline Hunt (below), 55, of Clover Nook,
Southampton, was convicted of the
converting the criminal property count.
Jurors were unable to reach a verdict
against her on the conspiracy charge but
it is unlikely she will face a re-trial.
- Hunt’s husband, Raymond, 56, was
acquitted of conspiracy to defraud and
concealing financial transactions.