THEY are the army of volunteers who give their spare time to help raise vital funds to support terminally ill cancer sufferers.

Next month around 25,000 people will help collect donations from the public for Marie Curie Cancer Care’s annual appeal nationwide.

Today charity chiefs urged Hampshire residents to keep showing their support after a gang was caught duping kind-hearted people who put their money into collecting tins they were rattling in pubs around the county.

As reported by the Daily Echo, the three men and three women carried out the fraud over three years, claiming they were raising money for the charity which supplies nurses free of charge to dying people in their homes and in hospices.

During police raids, officers found forged collection tin labels, letters and identity badges and bags of money, although it will never be known exactly how much they got away with.

Southampton Crown Court was told how the scam began after ringleader Gordon Coe, 65, of Mansel Road East, Millbrook, was accepted as a volunteer.

Others then collected money in the charity’s name, but without authorisation, before splitting the proceeds.

Now Coe, together with Benjamin Chapman, 43, and his wife Kim, of Pennine Road, Susan Christians, 64, of Drapers Copse, Dibden, and Pauline Hunt, 55, of Clover Nook, Redbridge, all face prison terms for their role in the crime.

A spokesman from Marie Curie Cancer Care said the charity was determined “not to let one bad apple give legitimate charity collectors a bad name”, adding that the vast majority were trustworthy and dedicated.

They said that legitimate collectors are overseen by staff from the charity and are issued with a collection permit to identify themselves, wear Marie Curie tabards and carry fully sealed tins.

The spokesman added: “These volunteers undergo rigorous checks from the outset, including selection meetings and references, to ensure they are trustworthy and dependable. We couldn’t raise the vital funds we need without them.”

Anyone concerned about collectors calling at their door or approaching them in a pub is asked to contact the charity direct on 0844 415 7854.

* Under the House to House Collections regulations 1947, anyone wanting to collect door to door for a charity must have a licence.

They have to apply for that through the council, giving their name, address and details, which can then be subject to a police check.

They also have to supply the name of the charity and its charity commission number as part of the process.

Southampton City Council has a register of people and organisations intending to collect by cold-calling at homes in the city at any one period of time. The same regulations apply for anyone collecting money in pubs, who are bound by the House to House Collections Act 1939.