THE ringleader of a cruel scam to steal money from dying cancer sufferers has spoken exclusively to the Daily Echo.
Callous Gordon Coe betrayed the trust of a cancer charity providing care for those in their final hours and instead pocketed the donations and shared them with his friends.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Echo the former pub boss tells of his shame and his fears that he will die if jailed.
It comes as the gang involved in the conspiracy prepared to be sentenced for their crimes on Monday.
The 65-year-old dad from Millbrook, Southampton broke down in tears at his flat when challenged about his fraudulent behaviour that deprived Marie Curie Cancer Care of thousands of pounds in donations.
Sitting in his modest home, his right leg recently amputated and showing the scars of a heart attack which he says is the reason the money never reached the charity, Coe spoke of how the case had left him devastated.
As reported yesterday, Coe signed up as a volunteer fundraiser for the organisation in 2008 and told us it was because his father, aunt and grandmother had all died from the disease and he “wanted to give something back”.
But against strict charity rules he enlisted his friends to help and set about a scam targeting pubs across the south of England.
Outlining the case against Coe at Southampton Crown Court, prosecutor Nicholas Tucker said: “Mr Coe, we say and have always said, was the instigator and ringleader. He was not out collecting but he was plainly the organiser who took a substantial cut of the proceeds.”
He said that Coe was responsible for making up the fake IDs, badges and other paraphernalia with the charity’s logo and that there was evidence that Coe was planning the scam earlier than 2008 as he bought blank collection tins from a company in the months before.
Mr Tucker said that during the course of the fraud, deposits totalling £31,348 were made into Coe’s bank account that could not be explained.
But the true scale of the con will never be known.
“Not every penny represents proceeds from this scam but we say it must reflect money received from the collections,” he added.
Coe pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud and concealing financial transactions.
But despite the evidence outlined in court Coe maintained he did not plan the scam.
He told the Daily Echo: “There was never a plan to rip anyone off, it was the fact that I got taken to hospital because I had a heart attack and I died five times, that was the reason this happened.”
“Because I am a law-abiding citizen I felt that I was technically guilty, even though it was not intended, so I pleaded guilty. I have done something wrong because the money was in my bank account.
“Of course I am sorry. Until all this happened I had a good name. OK, I have been done for drink- driving but who hasn’t? Apart from that I have never had a criminal record – but I certainly have now.”
He claimed that the charity money was spent on bills while he was in hospital being treated for a heart attack. Coe said co-defendant Kim Chapman, who was found guilty by a jury for her part in the conspiracy paid his bills while he was in hospital and “knew nothing” about the scam.
In a bid to take the blame away from her, Coe said: “She never ever collected for Marie Curie and she was not guilty of conspiracy. Nobody was guilty really. They were not officially allowed to be collecting but that was down to me – I paid them.”
“All of the money that was collected would come back here and I would bank it. Whatever was left after I had paid their petrol and food – which would be £20 for petrol in Southampton and £30 if they went further afield plus £30 for dinner while they were out – was banked.
“I allowed it and I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do, because of how hard they worked when they were out. I didn’t pay the money in weekly because I thought it was better to keep hold of it and send them a cheque for a bigger amount. It was flexible.”
Coe denied being repeatedly chased by concerned Marie Curie workers and refusing to answer their letters and phone calls, insisting they made “very little contact”.
Coe went on to claim he was now £13,000 in debt and insisted he used a credit card to pay for him and his accomplices to go on luxury holidays to destinations including the Dominican Republic and Tenerife – and not money raised through the charity collections.
He continued: “Half my friends think I am evil. People have posted on Facebook saying they are going to bomb me, but it was never the plan all along to defraud the charity, I refute that quite blatantly.”
Mitigating for Coe, Richard Martin urged the court to impose a merciful sentence and not jail him due to his failing health.
Along with being an amputee Mr Martin said Coe, who is visited four times a day by carers as he was unable to look after himself, suffered from a heart condition along with several open wounds and so was at high risk of infection that could be life-threatening.
Coe, 65, of Mansel Court, Southampton, told us: “If I go to prison it will kill me in terms of my health. With this hanging over me I wish the doctors had just let me die in hospital.”